BOSTON (SHNS) – Vocational-technical schools in Massachusetts and around the country should follow the lead of a pair of schools in Worcester and Springfield, which reshaped themselves from underperforming to sparkling models of success over a decade-plus period, a think tank concluded in a new report.

The Pioneer Institute highlighted Worcester Technical High School and the Roger L. Putnam Technical Academy in Springfield as examples of transformation, in particular praising their investment in modern facilities and emphasis on academic achievement as key contributors to improvement. Both facilities languished near the bottom of state educational metrics such as MCAS scores and graduation rates in the early 2000s, but by 2012 had achieved “dramatic improvements,” author William Donovan wrote in the report published last week.

Modern school buildings helped. In 2006, Worcester Tech opened a $90 million new school, funded by $60 million from the state and $30 million raised by an advisory board of business leaders. Putnam opened a $114 million new facility in 2012, 90 percent of which was reimbursed by the state.

Donovan, a former staff writer with The Providence Journal, also reported that new principals brought a stronger focus on academics, which combatted public perception of “urban voc-tech schools as ‘dumping grounds’ for students who were thought to be less capable than their peers” and equipped pupils with education complementary to hands-on skills.

Donovan gave four recommendations to other voc-tech schools based on the success in Worcester and Springfield:

  • Recruit a local business leader to lead fundraising efforts
  • Ensure principals have knowledgeable deputies
  • Emphasize the link between academic education and vocational skills
  • Erect dedicated funds such as 501(c)(3) nonprofits to help bolster investments in new facilities and state-of-the-art equipment.