Only a few weeks into the job, and already regional high school vocational director Bob Drobneck was on a mission. It was a late Wednesday afternoon when Mr. Drobneck climbed into his black sedan, one of a handful of cars still remaining on school grounds at the end of the day, and pulled out onto the Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road.
He was on his way to the Tisbury Council on Aging to collect equipment for the vocational exploratory, a freshman class aimed at introducing students to various fields in the vocational department. The current field of study is health care assisting, a new program this year, so Mr. Drobneck is trying to collect medical materials to supply it.
“It’s tough to recruit people for the program if you don’t have the toys,” he explained.
He’s reached out to all the councils on aging and the hospital, and is hoping to collect more surplus equipment in the next few weeks.
Mr. Drobneck, a native of Lynn, has spent the past 17 years teaching culinary arts in Medford, a town he pronounces without the “o” in the second syllable. He moved to Oak Bluffs in August.
His former school, Medford Technical Vocational School, is a traditional vocational program, where students alternate academic and vocational education week to week. The Vineyard vocational program follows a comprehensive model, where students can take vocational classes as electives integrated into their general education classes. He says the comprehensive model is preferable because it provides more academic class time.
“Times change,” he said, rounding the corner on Pine Tree Road by the cemetery in Vineyard Haven. “And we are in a society where now a premium is placed on advanced education. And for a lot of students, the ability to participate fully in a broader academic environment is more beneficial.”
In his new position, Mr. Drobneck does not teach, but rather oversees the department’s programs, which include automotive technology, early childhood education, horticulture and landscaping, and carpentry.
Once in the council on aging basement, he surveyed the donations. A rolling serving table resisted full extension of its trunk, Joyce Stiles-Tucker, director of the council, explained in a tone of concern. But Mr. Drobneck was unfazed. He jiggled the metal pieces to pull it free. “Nothing that a little WD-40 can’t take advantage of!” he remarked cheerfully, before loading the equipment and returning to the high school.
Mr. Drobneck moved into the bump-out office in the vocational department in mid-August.
“Martha’s Vineyard does have a certain amount of appeal to it as a place to live and work,” he said. “And I’d always heard that the school district was very progressive and that the Island liked to take care of their children and I thought it was a good opportunity, too good an opportunity to pass up.”
Following in the footsteps of his predecessor, former director Jeff Rothwell, Mr. Drobneck hopes to continue to incorporate community service into the vocational curriculum. The culinary kids can serve meals at the council on aging or brunch at the Rotary Club. “There are all kinds of community outreach opportunities available,” he said. Mr. Drobneck said it’s important to give back to the community that supplies the department with all its equipment. “We need funding and the Island is more than generous with us in that respect,” he said. “I think it engenders a sense of community in the kids especially in a close-knit community like the Island.”
When the seniors begin the process of looking for work, he hopes to encourage them to look into opportunities on the Island. “If you’re going to be a house framer, then let’s look to the Island to see if there’s a spot for you,” he said.
To that end, the new health care assisting program is designed to help meet the need for health aides at the hospital and in at the many elderly communities on the Island. And that need is only expected to intensify, according to a Donor’s Collaborative study showing that the elderly Islander population is growing.
The 11 vocational exploratory students are currently in the health assisting phase, but in subsequent weeks, they will be introduced to all the department offerings. “Here’s a chance for them to see if they like swinging a hammer, pulling the wrenches or doing diagnostics on a car, if that is a career path they would like to pursue,” Mr. Drobneck said. “I love the exploratory because the kids are basically a clean slate, and the instructors are able to give them a fair and unbiased look at it.”
The instructors make a point to expose the kids to workers of nontraditional genders working in the trades. For example, women in automotive mechanics and men in the field of nursing. “It’s a good way to take the edge of uncertainty out of a kid’s outlook,” he said. “It gives the child to the opportunity to make a better informed decision.”
Back in his office Mr. Drobneck discussed his initial impressions of the school.
“Everybody is still smiling and freshly scrubbed, there aren’t any dramas going on that I know of,” he said. “Overall, it’s been a very pleasant and welcoming experience, and I am thrilled to be here.”