Where small future-focused learning communities anchor CTE

Hamilton County Schools' Future Ready Institutes transforming the career prep pipeline

Students with similar career interests in Hamilton County Schools form small learning communities called Future Ready Institutes to follow CTE pathways.

And to create more inter-disciplinary links, educators have linked each CTE class to at least two core academic courses, says Blake Freeman, the Tennessee district’s K-12 officer of academics.

“We emphasize cross-curricular, project-based learning to help students understand why they need math for carpentry or how English and entrepreneurial classes go together,” Freeman says.

The Future Ready Institutes, which launched in 2017 with a ninth-grade cohort, were created with input from the Chattanooga-area business community.

Students dive their days between classroom instruction and on-site, hands-on apprenticeships.

And each institute has an advisory panel that keeps district educators stay up to date on the latest workforce needs, provides guest speakers and helps design curriculum.

The institutes have also motivated the district to expand school choice options, Freeman says.

Students whose home high school does not provide a program that matches their career interests can apply to attend the high school where the classes are offered.

Future Ready facts & figures

Total Hamilton County Schools enrollment: 45,000 students

Future Ready Institutes enrollment: 3,500

Number of institutes: 29 (at 13 high schools)

Industry certifications and credentials earned:

  • 2017-18: 90
  • Fall 2020: 333
  • March 2021: 501

Amount of financial and in-kind donations from industry: $2.9 million

A quarter of the spots in the institutes are reserved for students from outside each school’s boundaries. Students are accepted based purely on space.

The district begins recruiting for the institutes in eighth grade when all students take a YouScience assessment to measure careers interests and aptitudes.

School counselors also develop a six-year academic plan with each eighth grader so each student understands their full range of high school options.

The goal is to make students aware of programs and potential careers that they may not be aware of, Freeman says.

The district also enlists student ambassadors to recruit students into the Future Ready Institutes.

“We’re cautious to point to causality, but our institute students have a better attendance rate, they’re scoring at a higher rate on benchmark tests, and they’re passing courses at a higher rate than non-institute students,” Freeman says.

When CTE becomes ‘transformative’

By 2025, 80% of living-wage jobs in Hamilton County will require a degree or technical credential, and many of those jobs will be in manufacturing.

Volkswagen, for example, will open its first North American electric vehicle manufacturing facility in Chattanooga.

Chattanooga 2.0 is a community effort to support the district’s Future Ready Institutes and help students gain the proper hands-on experience.

“There’s a perception that in order to have long-term economic success every student has to have a four-year credential,” says Miles Huff, senior director of talent initiatives at Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. “A lot of our work is in informing the school system of industry needs that are aligned with community colleges, and colleges of applied technology.”

Nine of the Future Ready Institutes are branded by an employer in the relevant business sector. Those firms also provide teacher externships and professional development, Huff says.

High-demand fields in Hamilton County include health care, hospitality and IT, while advanced manufacturing and construction are two of the fasted growing sectors, he says.

“When you have the business community and schools really connected, it’s transformative for students and teachers,” Huff says. “Our role is to get as many businesses integrated with students and teachers as we can.”

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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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