Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Imagining Innovative Education


Our young principal's face was serious as he addressed the group of department chairs gathered in the high school media center.

"2014 is the year that the district plans to open the new Max Hayes Career and Technical High School, and I have been told that the new school WILL NOT be a traditional high school. The district is looking to make this school a flagship of innovation in career and technical education, and anyone who wants to be a part of the new Max Hayes needs to begin rethinking how we educate high school students to work in the trades."

The expressions around the table ranged from bewildered to anxious; from suspicious, to thoughtful. Peering over her glasses, one district veteran spoke up, "What exactly do they mean by the term 'innovative'?"

"As I understand it," he answered, "they are looking for new approaches in everything. New curriculum, new collaborations, new scheduling, a new calendar... We can rethink anything and everything. For example, I'd like to use new technology to take attendance. We could have kids sign in with a fingerprint. The school will remain a comprehensive high school, but what if we could incorporate the academics into the trade classes? Or what if the trade students ran small businesses out of the school?"

"What a fabulous opportunity," I thought. Aloud I asked, "What are the non-negotiables? Are there legal constraints we need to keep in mind? You know things like OCEA?"

"The students will still have to pass the OGT."

For over a week now the possibilities swirled through my mind like the powdery snow lifted in the wind eddies just outside the doorway.
What would an innovative career tech school look like?

I imagine a green building, one that utilizes lots of new technology. I'm not talking about plopping a few solar panels on a rooftop. No, I would envision a building that not only incorporates the technology, but whose design shouts sustainability. The architecture should scream "GREEN".
Urban wind generators would be installed, like modern sculpture, on a green roof, whose vegetation becomes an outdoor classroom for botany lessons, and is maintained by students who might be learning the roofing trade or landscaping. Large solar panels would become canopies for covered walkways and bus shelters.

This new innovative school will not be a college preparatory program. This is career tech, and we are training the workforce of the twenty-first century. What will they need to know? What would an innovative high school look like for students who are NOT college bound?

I asked the question of my family and my friends. I even posted it on face book. The answers were remarkable:
"The school needs more than lip-service from local business. Develop working partnerships. Bring the professionals into the classrooms for workshops."

"(Teach the) restoration of horticulture, agriculture, manufacturing, CAD, IT and home economics curricula... probably more.
Learn to sew, grow, cook, plumb, build and repair mechanical things, use web tools."

"The future is about sustainability. Teach the students how to install and maintain solar panels, geothermal systems, and wind generators. Teach them how to work on electric cars, new diesel, and fuel cells. Have your neighbors at the Great Lakes Brewery teach them about engines that use recycled cooking oil, and how to run a zero waste business."

"Use the CNC mills and lathes to run production. Have a WIRENET partner outsource a small job to the students, and let them have the experience and satisfaction of manufacturing a real product."

"Let the building construction students rehab some of the thousands of abandoned houses in Cleveland."

"Make sure the students understand the business end of business. Use math classes to teach about finance, loans, interest, and credit. Teach them how to fill out purchase orders, write business letters, and correspond professionally. Teach courtesy."

"Do you know how many young people get fired from their first few jobs for not coming to work on time, or worse yet, not showing up at all... no notice... no phone call? Employers expect punctuality. A school that prepares kids for jobs needs to insist on attendance and punctuality."

"They could have the kids tear down all those school buildings that they want to close and recycle the materials before they rot."

"In the real world, companies drug test their employees. What if the students had to pass a drug test to work in the shops?"

"Don't just teach the kids a trade, teach them how to make money. Teach them how to market their skills. Teach them self-reliance."

"Make the new school a real showcase. Design it so that visitors can tour the building and observe the classes through windows that look down on the shop floors. Include a state of the art auditorium so you can bring in speakers, not just for the students, but also hold programs in the evening for the community. The suburbs open up their schools as community centers in the evening, why can't Cleveland do that for its residents? The community would support the schools if they were valuable, if they were accessible, to the whole community."

I would be interested to hear more ideas. Please post your thoughts and I'll make sure to pass them along to the people in charge of gathering community input. Will any of the real decision makers actually pay attention...? Well, one can always hope.


Kathy G said...

How exciting to hear about a school that's focusing on technical education instead of college prep.

I can't add anything to your list of excellent ideas, but please keep us posted on the progress!

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