How 2 career academies invite business leaders to play key role

CTE leaders offer several tips for sharing decision-making power with local industry
By: | July 30, 2021
Students work together on an engineering project at the Sioux City Career Academy in Iowa.Students work together on an engineering project at the Sioux City Career Academy in Iowa.

More than 60 Sioux City Career Academy students participated in in-person internships last school year despite COVID’s disruptions.

At least two were offered full-time jobs and one student has received a fall apprenticeship as a chef’s assistant, says Katie Towler, principal of the academy that is part of the Sioux City Community School District.

“We’re not a temp agency. We’re not here to feed kids into any job,” Towler says. “There has to be a sweet spot—it has to be something kids are passionate about and that meets the communities needs.”

Decision-making power at the academy is shared by an advisory committee that includes representatives of business and community associations and retired professionals, Towler says.


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While many CTE instructors have substantial industry experience, the members of the advisory council who are still working in their fields are more cognizant of labor trends and forecasts. The advisors will, for example, help update the curriculum and decide what equipment and supplies are needed.

A student completes a project in a biomedical course at the Sioux City Career Academy.

A student completes a project in a biomedical course at the Sioux City Career Academy.

“To make it a more valuable experience for our partners and for us, we’re going to vet all decisions through the committee,” Towler says. “It’s a shift for our thinking in how we operate.”

Some of the most critical programs business partners can provide are worked-based learning experiences, internships and apprenticeships for students.

Two of the academy’s teachers spend half their time as work-based learning coordinators, contacting companies to partner with the school. A key to engaging new partners in the academy is encouraging them to visit the campus, including inviting them to hold meetings at the school, Towler adds. The academy also relies on business partners who’ve had successful experiences with students to spread the word about the school.

“Once we get them on campus and they can see the cutting edge education that’s happening here, I can guarantee they’re willing to work with us at some level.”

‘Listening to the community’

In Indiana, the Greater Lafayette Career Academy‘s business partners have been involved from the outset in the design of the building, which has been under construction for the past four years.

The Greater Lafayette Career Academy, which is now nearing completion, is a partnership between Lafayette School Corporation, Tippecanoe School Corporation and the West Lafayette Community School Corporation.

The Greater Lafayette Career Academy, which is now nearing completion, is a partnership between Lafayette School Corporation, Tippecanoe School Corporation and the West Lafayette Community School Corporation.

Administrators of the school, a partnership between Lafayette School Corporation, Tippecanoe School Corporation and the West Lafayette Community School Corporation, even brought industry leaders on tours of career academies in other districts.

Business leaders, meanwhile, have helped educators develop authentic environments based on the programming—modern manufacturing, for instance, says Miranda Hutcheson, the academy’s director.

“The key is listening to the community,” Tippecanoe Superintendent Scott Hanback says. “You read, you review data, you tour local manufacturing facilities, you remain active in local chamber events and networking opportunities where you build relationships and establish contacts.”

In turn, administrators from the three districts participate in the regional chamber of commerce’s 2030 workforce visioning committee. Educators give the business community insight into state standards and requirements, Hanback says. “Our job is a high school diploma,” he says. “Business leaders need to also understand we’re not just a blank slate who can do whatever we want. We have a lot of K-12 centered duties and responsibilities that business leaders don’t automatically know about.”

The academy will reduce much of the redundancy that existed between the three districts’ CTE programs. Administrators will no longer have to compete for the same resources and instructors as students work to earn industry certifications while still in high school.

“We have some very large manufacturers, such as Subaru and Caterpillar, down to the local plumber who can offer an internship or be a guest speaker,” says Superintendent Les L. Huddle of the Lafayette School Corporation. “We’ve been open about offering opportunities to any business in the community.”