Sonoma County Office of Education

Career Technical Education

High School CTE Models

CTE Agriculture StudentCTE Courses: CTE courses provide curriculum and experiences that engage high school students in exploring and preparing for college and careers. In these specially designed programs, students acquire skills and knowledge to support their future work experiences. Most CTE programs are linked to post-secondary education at the community college and/or university level.

All Sonoma County high schools offer CTE courses in select career areas. Culinary arts, business and finance, child development, healthcare, information technology, and manufacturing are examples of some of the career focus areas in Sonoma County high schools. Courses in these and other focus areas give students the opportunity to explore career options, develop academic and work-readiness skills, and prepare for industry-defined employment or advanced education.


CTE Health Care Student Career Pathways: A career pathway is a sequence of academic and CTE courses designed to prepare high school students for transition to more advanced post-secondary coursework in a career area of interest. Students take career pathway courses to enhance the relevance of their learning and to prepare for college and career.

Most career pathways combine academic classroom-based activities, hands-on project-based learning, and work-based learning experiences at business and agency work sites. Instruction is aligned with the Common Core State Standards, CTE Model Curriculum Standards, and current industry practices.

Career Pathway programs are offered in high schools throughout Sonoma County in industry areas that have been identified as viable sectors of Sonoma County’s economy. Many schools provide career pathways using Smaller Learning Community models.

Smaller Learning Communities

Healthcare StudentSmaller Learning Communities are an educational model for structuring high school programs around career themes. English, science, and social science courses are oriented around career clusters—healthcare, engineering, media, public service, and others. Academic instruction is supported and reinforced by CTE courses that address the specific skills and knowledge necessary for future employment in the career cluster. Smaller Learning Communities schedule students in cohort groups so that they matriculate through the three- to four-year program with the same group of peers.

There are several variations on the Smaller Learning Community model, as described below.


Linked Learning: Linked Learning pathway programs integrate core academic subjects (science, mathematics, social science, art, and English language arts) with CTE courses. This model incorporates comprehensive and rigorous academics for grades 9-12, strong connections to post-secondary institutions to ensure a smooth transition after graduation, and local industry and business partnerships to inform curriculum development and support work-based learning. Through Linked Learning, schools are able to effectively integrate Common Core State Standards and relevant CTE instruction with a goal of ensuring that students are “college and career ready.”


CTE StudentCalifornia Partnership Academies (CPA): California Partnership Academies are grant-funded, career-themed programs that function as “schools within a school.” They include all of the elements of a Smaller Learning Community, but have an additional focus on at-risk students. These programs have gained national recognition for academic achievement and college-going rates. Like Linked Learning, Partnership Academies combine rigorous academics and CTE courses. The CTE courses are often UC-approved electives, which helps support student transition to post-secondary education.


Specialized Secondary Programs (SSP): Specialized Secondary Programs are another type of grant-funded Smaller Learning Community initiative. While they are not required to address specific career clusters, SSPs provide an opportunity for entire schools to use the Smaller Learning Community model as an organizing structure.

Related Resources

Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE)
Buck Institute: Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century
California Career Center
Career & College Academy Support Network (CCASN)
CDE, Career Technical Education
ConnectEd: California Center for College and Career
CTE, Learning that Works for America
GetREAL: Relevance in Education and Learning
Linked Learning Alliance
Project Lead The Way, Standards Alignment Tool
National Academy Foundation


My career pathway courses have taught me
the most important lessons we will ever learn:
teamwork, trust, responsibility, self-control, and leadership.


—Cherie Auradou, student