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Commissioners OK letter of support for Highland County ACCESS program's 'Career Z Challenge' application

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Pictured (l-r) are Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Brad Roades and Terry Britton. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
Caitlin Forsha, The Highland County Press

Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Brad Roades and Terry Britton agreed to submit a letter of support for Highland County ACCESS and heard an informal update on the program’s workforce development efforts during their Wednesday, June 5 meeting.

Tim Dettwiller, director of Highland County ACCESS (Alignment of Community Connections for Employer and Student Success), attended the meeting to request the letter for a funding opportunity.

As previously reported, according to a presentation by Dettwiller to commissioners in 2022, the goal of the Highland County ACCESS is for “schools, businesses and community agencies in Highland County” to have open communication and to promote incentivized learning; students graduating with work exposure and experience leading them to informed career choices upon graduation; businesses making connections with potential future employees; and community partners providing clarity, leading to better utilization of their resources by schools and businesses.


Tim Dettwiller

n Wednesday, Dettwiller told commissioners that Highland County ACCESS is “one of 67 finalists out of over 600” applicants in the U.S. Department of Education’s “Career Z Challenge: Expanding Work-Based Learning Opportunities for Gen Z,” and they are seeking support from the community.

“We've got 20 commitment letters in, and we hope to have about 40 by the time we submit [the application],” Dettwiller said. “Basically, it's a commitment to support. It's not financial obligation or anything like that, but the continued support that you’ve shown to the program, the ACCESS program, would remain in place in regard to coming to meetings and supporting all the events we have and that type of thing.

“They want to see that the workforce ecosystem is vibrant and alive and functioning, and that's what I have to describe, and have described, in our submission.”  

Their project application says: “The Highland County Workforce Leadership Council, in partnership with the Southern Ohio Educational Service Center, are working to develop and implement a comprehensive School-Business-Community Agency Partnership. This partnership will provide work experience opportunities for all Highland County students. The use of a communication software platform that allows for all stakeholders to interact is in place. Partnerships are being formed to allow students to explore experience opportunities, business partners to market their business and for school personnel to streamline paperwork between all stakeholders.”

Dettwiller said that as part of their submission, they listed a goal of having “over 80 students in internships” during the 2024-25 school year.

“Ultimately the Leadership Council, their goal was that every student in Highland County has a work experience before they graduate,” he said. “Now that can be a job shadow, that can be an internship, that can be a part-time job, but they have at least one of those things to kind of drive their graduation plans. We’e moving that direction, which is good news.”

They are currently in the second “phase” of the application process. In the third phase, a total of 10 “finalists will be immersed into an accelerator, receiving enhanced and tailored technical assistance to accelerate the expansion and sustainability of their WBL Ecosystem,” according to the U.S. Department of Education. “This intensified technical assistance will include one-on-one coaching, online collaboration space, resources and in-person or virtual events.”

“If we’re one of those 10, we will receive $150,000 that will be used toward the ACCESS program,” Dettwiller said. “We're working hard to try to get that done.”

Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve the support letter.

Dettwiller also briefly updated commissioners on some of the program’s achievements since his last report at their Oct. 11 meeting.

During that meeting, Dettwiller and Highland County Economic Development Director Julie Bolender announced that Highland County would be hosting its inaugural Manufacturers Summit, which took place last November in conjunction with BESTOhio. The summit included a discussion of the new Manufacturers Internship Stipend Program.

“We had a goal of 10 students coming out of Manufacturing Day that would get into internships in manufacturing, and we had nine,” Dettwiller said. “The good news about that is of the nine that participated in an internship, three went on to employment with the manufacturers upon graduation. That's what they want to see, and that's what we want to hear, so it was very valuable experience.”

Over the 2023-24 school year, the ACCESS program continued to show growth, with students and their families also seeking information on job opportunities this summer, Dettwiller told commissioners.

“Overall internships this year, we had five internships in the county, not this past school year, but the one before,” he said. “This past year, we had 42, so it's growing. The beauty of it is what I've always wanted to see, where the students are driving the interest.

“I’ve had three calls in the last week from parents of students who are looking for something for them to do for the summer, so they've gone out and they've seen experiences on the ACCESS dashboard, and they've called me say, ‘OK, what do we do next?’”

Roades asked if all five Highland County school districts are continuing to work in conjunction with the program.

“As you may or may not know, we have what we call the Work Experience Team, which is made up of folks from each school district,” Dettwiller said. “We meet monthly. At that meeting, I just open it up, and we have conversations about the issues and challenges they're facing, and it's interesting to see the different perspectives on those challenges. Counselors, their responsibility is making sure kids have all their credits they need to graduate. That's their number-one job. Workforce development is not.

“You see these competing interests and come together to try to figure out how to make things work, but that’s the beauty of it.”

Another benefit from the discussions, Dettwiller said, is that the different schools can learn from each other.

“They're unknowingly putting soft pressure on each other,” he said. “They're making moves and changes, and they go back and talk to the principal and superintendent and say, ‘Hey, did you know that Greenfield’s doing this or Lynchburg is doing this,’ and they start putting pressure on each other to improve and move that direction.”

Also in the past year, Dettwiller said that Lynchburg-Clay and Bright Local are ramping up their career/workforce development efforts, while Hillsboro and Greenfield are continuing to hold steady with their existing (and successful) programs and Fairfield remains ahead of the curve.

“Lynchburg is in the process of looking at trying to add more time for their career coach. Bright Local actually moved somebody into the position, so their counselor no longer is the only person working with students on workforce development,” Dettwiller said. “Those students now have somebody that will talk them about the skills they need to take on different jobs, to have a career assessment completed.

“Fairfield, of course, they still keep pushing the envelope and doing the next level. They are using a different assessment for their kids. It's called YouScience instead of GRIT because it gives them more relevant data for what they want to see for their corporate or curriculum programming. They have embedded courses just for career development, grades seven through 12. No other school in the county has that right now.”

Bolender added that Bright Local and Lynchburg-Clay have made “excellent choices” in their hiring, and she said she believes the two schools “will see a big surge in the ACCESS Program” next school year.

“It’s going well,” Dettwiller said. “I’m pretty excited about the program. It's going exactly the direction that I think that we wanted to see, that being myself and the Leadership Council. I get calls all the time from different businesses saying ‘how can I get in front of these kids?’ That's the number-one call that I get.

“They want to get in front of students somehow, whether that's as a speaker, whether that's an internship pipeline, whatever it is. That's what I'm hearing now, as well as kids that want to just have an internship, so getting this connection made is what I'm trying to get done.”

Commissioners thanked Dettwiller for the information, as Dettwiller said he would return to a future meeting with a more formal presentation and slideshow to share data.

In other discussion:

• Highland County Job & Family Services Director Jeremy Ratcliff submitted his 2025 budget request, which shows the impact on the general fund if a third attempt at a levy for Children Services does not pass, Daniels said.

“For general fund revenue support for next year, [they will need] a total of $1.3 million,” Daniels said. “That's their estimate that they have provided.”

As previously reported, a proposed five-year, one-mill replacement levy for the agency failed in the Nov. 7 general election, and in the March 19 primary, a proposed .9-mill replacement levy was also rejected by Highland County voters. Ratcliff said in March that the agency was facing a potential shortfall of $900,000.

• Commissioners said that they received a letter from the Ohio Public Defender’s Office notifying them of indigent defense reimbursement rates for fiscal year 2025.

According to Daniels, the current reimbursement rate is 85 percent, and for 2025, it will be 79 percent.

“That's gone down from ’22, when it was 100 percent because they put additional funding in,” Daniels said. “Other counties throughout the state, ourselves included, changed the reimbursement rate for those attorneys.”

As previously reported, after receiving word that the state would provide 100-percent reimbursement, the commission agreed in October 2021 to raise the indigent defense rate from $56 per hour to $75 per hour.

• Commissioners authorized a letter of support for the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission’s “Foundation Start UP Application.”

“My understanding is OVRDC is looking to develop a foundation that could be utilized by its counties for an additional financial support, maybe gap financing,” Bolender said. “It would open them up to additional opportunities to receive grants and finances, so it's another tool in the tool belt when we think about economic development in this region.”

Daniels said that OVRDC is “a good partner with our county and the other counties in the region as far as our economic development.”

• Commissioners noted that their Wednesday, June 19 meeting will be moved up to Tuesday, June 18 at 9 a.m., due to the Juneteenth federal holiday.

Commissioners made the following approvals, each by a 3-0 vote:

•  A budget modification from Public Assistance (2050) to Children Services (2115) Children Services Fund in the amount of $78,842 for foster care costs.

• A budget modification within the County General Fund (1000) in the amount of $4,300.

• An additional appropriation from unanticipated revenue within the County General Fund (1000) in the amount of $35,045.20.

• A certificate of county-wide cost allocation plan with Maximus US Services, Inc. was authorized.

• A proposal and service agreement with Johnson Controls for a back flow device/dry system riser was also approved.

• The commission president was authorized to execute five separate items related to health insurance: Medical Mutual - Highland HSA group benefit summary report; Medical Mutual - Highland PPO group benefit summary report; a disclaimer and notes; legislative updates; and a renewal form.

As previously reported, on May 22, commissioners approved a change to their employee health care plan following a meeting with Dave Brown of Brown Raybourn, the county’s health insurance broker. The rate was lowered from 15 percent to six percent.

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