6 key moves for leaders who want to accelerate career pathways

If you’re a superintendent who has built a career pathways program with your leadership team, you know it’s a complex undertaking that requires plenty of outreach and collaboration with local businesses and other community organizations. If you’re a K12 leader who is only in the preliminary phase—or earlier—the good news is that districts and states that have developed successful career pathways have plenty of lessons to share.

The most important thing to know is that a district, no matter the size, can’t go it alone, says Marisa Mission, co-author of “Scaling Opportunity,” Bellwether’s policy playbook for building statewide career pathways programs. Though the report focuses on Delaware’s program, its lessons—covering curriculum, internships and work-based experiences—also apply to district-level initiatives, Mission adds.

“Employers need to buy in to help determine curricula and help districts understand the competencies will get graduates employment,” she continues, adding that K12 leaders shouldn’t limit their programs to the high school level.

“Expanding to middle school expands equity,” Mission explains. “If students are aware of opportunities earlier on and learn more, they have more time to make choices. They’re on a more equal footing rather than having to rely on family or social capital.”

Here are seven steps s for forming key partnerships and paving career pathways:

1. Align on and articulate a vision: Districts can assemble an advisory committee that consists of educators, business leaders, local officials and community members. The group can draft a strategic plan that sets a broad vision, creates a structure for the pathways program and identifies underrepresented stakeholders.

2. Build and sustain key partnerships: The superintendent is likely the one who will begin forming partnerships with a wider group of employers that will provide work experience and with nonprofit organizations that can help with funding and coordination.

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3. Ensure that programs are high quality and easy to implement: Identify and design pathways that meet the needs of local employers or fill gaps in other local career readiness programs.

4. Commit to data collection to assess impact and improve practice: Make career pathways data publicly available, including disaggregated data on participation and outcomes, to ensure programs are operating equitably. Districts can also share data with higher education and state labor agencies.

5. Create accountability around equity: Identify gaps and barriers that are limiting equitable access to career pathways programs. Convene teachers, parents, students and administrators to share ideas for closing equity gaps. Train district staff to identify and eliminate unconscious biases. Partner with advocates for historically underserved student populations.

6. Communicate the value of pathways programs to employers: Ensure industries and employers know the steps they cant take to support career pathways programs. Create a value-added argument that communicates why supporting pathways programs is good for business.

Bellwhether’s report also explores various funding sources districts and their partners can leverage to ensure career pathways programs are sustainable. “If a district is doing something great at the local level, it can inspire the state to take action,” Mission concludes.

District Administration‘s Superintendent’s Playbook series examines how superintendents, principals and other administrators are solving common problems that today’s educators are facing.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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