How 2 districts energize CTE pipelines with local industry

Texas and South Carolina tighten connections with local industry to design career prep programs

San Marcos Consolidated ISD sits on an innovation corridor between the big cities of San Antonio and Austin, where Oracle, Tesla and other tech giants are opening new facilities.

The district has responded to the growing need for skilled STEM workers with a computer science and digital forensics pathway, and next-gen automotive tech and engineering programs, says Mike Doyle, San Marcos CISD’s CTE director.

“Once students succeed through our programs, not only are they prepared with an understanding of what careers they want to go into, they also understand what additional education is required,” Doyle says. “They have an understanding of how to maneuver through this world.”

A grant has allowed the district to begin career prep work as early as elementary schools.

CTE staff are training elementary teachers to blend coding, computational thinking and related STEM skills into their instruction, Doyle says.

“Students are not going to a computer science class,” Doyle says. “We’re embedding it throughout all elementary classes.”

Starting in sixth grade and throughout high school, students can begin to take more specialized classes aligned with specific tech sectors. Along with preparing students for careers, San Marcos CISD leaders hope to diversify the STEM field, Doyle says.

By high school, San Marcos CISD students will have been studying computer science since the early grades.
By high school, San Marcos CISD students will have been studying computer science since the early grades.

“We’ve found that exposing students to computer science at a younger age helps them understand that’s it not impossible, that it’s for everybody, that regardless of who you are, there is a career out there for you,” he says.

‘Soft skills’ are ‘critical skills’

CTE pathways in the Charleston County School District in South Carolina follow three priorities: academic achievement, technical training and employability.

That final component covers skills such as collaboration, decision-making, respecting co-workers and showing up on time, says  Rich Gordon, the district’s executive director of career and technology education.

“I don’t like to call them ‘soft skills’ because these are critical skills students can practice and learn,” Gordon says.

The district has collaborated with local industry leaders, such as Boeing, Bosch and the healthcare sector, to create a CTE program that prepares students for high-skilled, high-demand, high-wage careers in the region’s workforce, Gordon says.

Boeing, for instance, builds the 787 Dreamliner commercial jumbo jet in a North Charleston plant, he says.

“These companies provide pristine work-based learning environments for our kids across multiple fields of study,” Gordon says. “They can go out to job sites and receive invaluable technical and employability experiences that they couldn’t get if we were just in our own silos in our own classrooms.”

To expand access to CTE programs, the district recently opened its first regional Center for Advanced Studies to serve students from multiple high schools. It plans to open a second facility in the near future.

Students are transported from their home schools to one of the centers during the school day for biomedical, automotive technology, robotics and other advanced, hands-on courses in makerspaces and state-of-the-art labs.

The corporations also provide subject matter experts and mentors as a form of professional development, to help teachers design and deliver CTE curriculum.

Gordon and his team actively seek out business partners to participate in the program, though employers also reach out to the district to get involved with students.

District leaders rely on teachers, counselors and parents to encourage students to enroll in the CTE programs, Gordon says.

Counselors, for instance, meet with students individually to develop graduation plans that include helping learners focus on areas of interest that could lead to high-demand careers, he says.

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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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