Skills Center's automotive technology program named one of country's best

Mark Franklin is designing a new graduation certificate for the students in his automotive technology program at West Sound Technical Skills Center in Bremerton. The program is awaiting its national accreditation in the next two to four weeks.

Franklin, automotive instructor at West Sound Tech for more than a dozen years now, hosted an evaluation from a National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation team last week. The NATEF representatives spent Wednesday and Thursday inspecting everything from the curriculum and attendance record to the tools and safety precautions on the auto shop floor.

The program received a 4.7 average score, including the maximum 5 points in the budget and instruction categories, though the instruction component was brought down slightly for the lack of a written first aid policy, a typically administrative item, Franklin said. The evaluation team sent its recommendation to NATEF headquarters in Virginia which has the final say on the program’s certification.

“With scores like that,” Franklin said. “It’s just a matter of formality.”

But last week Franklin was nervous. The inspection was the culmination of a three-year effort to bring the West Sound Tech automotive technology program up to par with the standards of the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE).

At the end of the second day of inspection, the evaluation team leader (ETL) said the West Sound Tech program was the best in the state and one of the best in the nation.

“He said he’s be doing this for a lot of years and this program scored higher than any other high school program,” Franklin said.

The ETL told Franklin and West Sound Tech’s director, Kathrin Carr, this was the first instance he did not need to come back to for re-evaluating any part of the program.

“He could’ve knocked me over with a feather when he said that,” Franklin said smiling.

“We knew we had worked hard on the process but we had no idea we’d be received so well by the (evaluation) team,” Carr said. “We were nervous about it and anxious about it.”

Carr said she hopes with the certification will come more scholarships from the industry. Franklin said once nationally certified, the automotive technology program will have good chances of receiving brand-new cars donated by manufacturers, as well as discount priced tools and equipment from industry suppliers.

There also are the direct benefits to students, such as stronger consideration by potential employers. A nationally certified program saves students money and time through a direct transfer of credits toward other certified community college automotive programs.

“I’ve noticed a new spark of enthusiasm with the students since they found out (about the national certification),” Franklin said. “They’ve realized this is not just a grease monkey auto shop.”

“I can get such a better job and people look up to you with more respect,” said Sarah Alvarez, junior at Peninsula High School in Purdy, who is planning on continuing her education in the automotive field after finishing her two-year program.

Eight local school districts feed into West Sound Tech and among the nearly 50 students in the automotive technology program there are now five Central Kitsap School District students enrolled.

Franklin said his students work on somewhere between 300 and 350 cars every year, offering services at significantly lower prices than regular automotive businesses.

“If I feel like the students can perform the service to industry standards, we’ll do it,” Franklin said. “So that when (a car) leaves here it’s every bit as good as (if) the industry (performed the work).”

The high standard to which he holds his students’ work has now reflected in the exemplary scores from the NATEF evaluation team.

“(The team leader) wished he had a mechanism to take the things learned here to other schools,” Franklin said. “His words were ‘one of the best in the country,’ which I have to get used to hearing.”

Pending its certification, automotive technology will become the fourth nationally accredited West Sound Tech program, along with culinary arts, the academy of finance, and the academy of hospitality and tourism.

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