Raising the bar at Randolph Career Technical Center

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When Jay Williams roams the halls of Detroit’s Randolph Career Technical Center these days, the 39-year-old project manager often wears a hard hat, high-visibility vest and safety glasses.

It wasn’t always that way.

Twenty-five years ago — before becoming a father and being able to grow the robust beard that now adorns his face — Williams meandered the halls as a middle school student, finding his way into a summer-school drafting program.

“I was a heck of a lot skinnier back then,” Williams said with a laugh.

It was somewhat of a family tradition to attend Randolph, Williams said; his siblings had attended the technical education school and found success. So, before heading off to high school at Cass Tech, he found his roots at Randolph.

When he graduated high school, Williams wanted to continue his education but knew he wasn’t quite ready for college. So, he turned to Randolph’s adult education program, earning his drafting certification.

That certification led Williams to where he is now: a senior project manager at DTE Energy. And this summer, he found his way back to Randolph once again, this time to manage a major renovation of the school.

The renovation is part of a multifaceted project championed by the Detroit Workforce Development Board that includes renovating classrooms and several common areas, developing improved curriculum and programming, recruiting hundreds of students, and raising money for supplies and equipment.

Williams, who also earned a bachelor’s degree in construction management from Eastern Michigan University, is the one leading the construction effort.

The goal is that this fall, hundreds of new students will enter the rejuvenated building with refreshed curriculum, classrooms and labs. DTE has provided project management services for the project along with volunteers and fundraising efforts. In addition, the DTE Energy Foundation donated $500,000 to the project.

Randolph, located on Hubbell Street in northwest Detroit, offers technical training to students in fields such as masonry, carpentry, electrical and plumbing. But the school had seen declining enrollment, out-of-date equipment and worn-down classrooms; as a result, the student population last year stood near 100, which threatened closure.

A turnaround is underway
The team this summer has remodeled and redesigned 13 rooms — including the massive rooms where children this fall will learn important skilled trades programs — along with three common areas such as the entryway, atrium and the school’s main hallway.

The next phase of the project includes a restart of the adult learning program in late October and a DTE-sponsored electrical worker program set to begin in fall 2018.

“I’m very excited about the school’s transformation because of what that school did for me,” Williams said. “I think it can be very good for the kids of the city.”

Williams was so involved in the project this summer, he “basically lived” in a small temporary office, just a door away from the school’s principal. He called the project quite nostalgic, saying the school doesn’t seem quite as large as when he was a boy.

He sees a revitalized Randolph as much more than an education — it is about increasing the level of expectations for the students. For instance, he said for kids in Detroit, the conversation is too-often centered on literacy rates, poverty and crime.

“The conversation is, ‘stay out of jail, learn to read,’” Williams said. “That bar is so incredibly low.

“A revitalized Randolph allows them to raise that bar. These programs can actually help people make a career, make a life,” he said. “When they see the opportunities that skilled trades can provide, it will open new doors for them, allow them to make a life out of it.”