Deborah Nankivell

published on May 15, 2019 - 1:48 PM
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What happens when dedicated educators and industry leaders form a partnership? They create unique technical educational programs that couldn’t exist without the full commitment of both. An outstanding example is a new program dedicated to diesel and heavy truck maintenance at Duncan Polytechnical High School. The program serves the needs of students, the transportation industry and a community hungry for quality jobs. As the first program of its kind, taking a decade to build, it is paving the way for the creation of similar partnerships between educators and industry throughout the country.

Across the current landscape of the educational system, a dramatic shift is underway as we move away from an industrial, one size fits all approach that rewarded fitting in, complying and cognitive learning. Today, education encourages students to discover their innate abilities and interests and translate them into mastery while they learn to work effectively in a team environment. This integrated approach develops confident, life-ready citizens equipped to adapt, lead and create. While the schools play an essential role, success will require greater engagement from employers across sectors.

The Duncan Polytech program came to fruition through industry working with the Fresno Business Council (FBC) and other partners, which have been working collaboratively with our Education Community for over 20 years. It offers profound proof that when education works together in collaborative ways with industry and the community, amazing things happen. Our focus has been finding ways to elevate the curriculum for the jobs of today and into the future.

For the past five years, the Fresno Business Council has focused on Career Technical Education in our high schools and community colleges with a laser focus to ensure that we have the relevant programs in place. Together, we recognized an enormous opportunity to build a first-in-class Heavy Truck Mechanic program. The new program will graduate approximately 30 students every year who will likely land good paying jobs locally, as the demand for truck mechanics in our area is the highest in our transportation history.

There are other terrific examples of successful programs in our community — Design Science and University High, new programs at Clovis, Sanger, and Central Unified, and an early adapter — CART, a joint venture between Fresno and Clovis Unified School Districts. These programs prove that we do know the “how.” Innovators have demonstrated the “what.” The call to action is “who”— who will step up and what role will they play? For continued success, we need people to influence policy and funding changes, new approaches to teacher preparation, continuous enhancements to curriculum, and deeper involvement by parents, employers and volunteers.

Mike Betts, president of the Fresno Business Council and chairman of Betts Company, has been deeply involved in the program. In a recent interview, Betts noted, “When you visit the new Duncan Polytech Heavy Truck program, you come away with the realization that what many people likely thought was impossible is now a reality. The collaboration, thought, planning and execution that went into the truck mechanic program is a testament to the new ways education and our business community have come together to build the finest Career and Technical Education ecosystem in our region. In fact, there isn’t another high school truck mechanic program in the nation that compares to it.”

Bravo to the leaders at Fresno Unified that made this happen — they listened, acted, aimed for world class and hit the target. Bravo to industry leaders who helped guide the work. Together, they took a field of grass and transformed it into a first-rate, state-of-the-art facility that equips students academically and vocationally. They have given us one more example of the amazing transformation underway in our community.


Since 1993, Deborah J. Nankivell has been the CEO of the Fresno Business Council, a nonprofit organization made up of business, academic and civic leaders committed to using their skills and resources to improve critical aspects of the community. Prior to moving to California, Deborah was the executive director of Common Cause Minnesota for nearly ten years. She also worked as a lobbyist for the retail food co-ops. She practiced law in the areas of criminal defense, workers compensation and personal injury. She also served as a consultant for Community Intervention, an organization that provides tools to community leaders to systemically address issues that impact at risk youth. She has a BA in philosophy from the University of Minnesota and a JD from William Mitchell College of Law. She is the author of Bugle Call: Stewardship is Serious Business.

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