Back to School: Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School

Smith Voc beefs up offerings, renovates main offices

  • Assistant Principal Anthony Sabonis Jr., left, Superintendent Andrew Linkenhoker and Principal Joseph Bianca, all of Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, are shown Aug. 17, 2017, at the school. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Keith Hicks, of the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School maintenance crew, installs ceiling panels in the new guidance hub under construction Aug. 17, 2017, at the school.

  • Assistant Principal Anthony Sabonis Jr., left, Superintendent Andrew Linkenhoker and Principal Joseph Bianca, all of Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — Leaders at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School are ramping up offerings at the school as a way to open up more opportunities for students, the new leadership said last week.

Newly promoted Superintendent Andrew Linkenhoker said the school will be expanding academic options and adding vocational staff. Plus, students will come into the new year with a different class structure and some infrastructural upgrades.

This school year will be the first in which Smith Vocational offers a foreign language — Spanish. Linkenhofer said the school fashions itself as a pathway for future police officers, who stand to benefit from some basic Spanish. The school will also be offering physics for the first time ever, which he said will help students understand the underlying mechanics of the materials they manipulate.

And to students’ dismay, he joked, school days at Smith Vocational will now be 25 minutes longer. By lengthening the day and shortening each existing period, he said, leaders can fit a seventh period into the day, making room for the new electives they’re offering.

Linkenhoker and Principal Joseph Bianca said the additional period also enables Smith Vocational to better serve students receiving special education services. They said the school often had to waive required courses for students on individualized education plans because there wasn’t enough time in the day to fit in those requirements in addition to those mandated by their education plan, which leaders agreed was a disservice to those students.

“We’ve changed the structure so now they get both,” Bianca said.

With the promotion of Linkenhoker to superintendent and Bianca to principal, a vacancy appeared in the assistant principal position. That role will be filled in the coming year by Anthony Sabonis Jr., the former vice principal at Gateway Regional.

“We’re real lucky to get someone with experience into that role,” Bianca said.

The school is also expanding its shop staff so that each one will have an additional instructor.

“Our job is to open as many doors for our students as possible,” Linkenhoker said.

‘Guidance suite’

Also new this fall will be a “guidance suite” across the hall from the main office, to the right of the main entrance. Linkenhoker said it seemed more appropriate to keep the school’s administrative offices together, while separating the superintendent’s and business offices.

Linkenhoker said the construction work was an entirely in-house job. Students did the demolition and the electrical work, while custodians worked over the summer on drywall and finishing touches.

The earlier stages of the construction required commercial-grade metal studs, which he said students got to work with. He said wooden studs are used for most everyday housing projects, so it was good students got practice with the metal ones many of them will use in the trades after they graduate.

“It’s a totally different technique,” he said.

He said students at the school often handle maintenance work needed on the campus as a way to get real-world, hands-on experience. Electrical students handle the circuits, plumbing students tackle the pipes and horticultural students manage the grounds.

“That’s common practice,” Linkenhoker said.

This summer, some students even got some summer cash caring for the grounds, as the maintenance workers were tied up with construction on the school’s new guidance hub.

“It freed up our custodians to handle the guidance suite,” he said, adding the work offers students an opportunity to take “more ownership of campus.”

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.