Monday, June 9, 2014

Partnerships for RPS (Part 2: Business)

If you haven't checked out Partnership #1: Neighborhoods, then be sure to do so. If you have, then you're awesome and continue to read on.

Key Partnership #2

Business Connections and Sponsorship (9th through 12th grade)

I separate primary education (pre-K through 8), from secondary (9 through 12), due to the multiple chemical/biological, social/environmental and marketplace/ workforce transitions occurring at this time. As a former teacher, I saw this change firsthand where incoming 10th graders returned to high school radically different from the quasi-human state that is 9th grade. I’ll swallow my words as Open High School 9th grader Mysia Perry wrote this inspiring article in Style Weekly last month.

The major need for this group (and our society) is to foster individual expression and exploration. Opposing this is our current education system which over-emphasizes a 4-year post-high school education for all and standardized testing. Because our education is a mile wide and a foot deep, we are not developing specific skills to meet gaps in the marketplace. Furthermore, in our race to drill route memory to achieve standards, and focus solely on STEM fields, we are doing a severe disservice to students by not developing the self-reflection and coping (non-cognitive) based skills that directly correlate to future success.

To put it simply, the pieces of knowledge that have taken me the furthest in life are:
  1. A love and hunger for learning
  2. Knowing how I process (learn and retain) new information
  3. Preparing for, and reacting too, setbacks
  4. Understanding how to communicate and work with others

A Solution

There is a lot to tackle here.

The topic of curriculum change and de-emphasis on standardized testing is a mammoth I will attack another time. Should probably use another animal because I am pro-mammoth resurgence. A quick preview on this topic would be to read Paul Tough’s “How Children Succeed” as it provides an amazing account of research on non-cognitive based skills impact on future success.  

Where the private sector, specifically business/industry, could drastically impact the quality of public high school education is through sponsorship of high schools. Sponsorship would involve providing funding for infrastructure, teacher and student resources, classroom technology, and human resources to come teach/interact with students.

In this system, RPS would make each of one of its current comprehensive education high schools targeted towards a certain industry. Those schools would then search out business partners in that field. The list could look something like…
  • Armstrong High School of Biotechnology, Science and the Environment sponsored by Bon Secours
  • Huguenot High School of Engineering, Trades and Construction sponsored by Barton Mallow
  • Jefferson High School of Arts, Culture and Writing sponsored by Altria
  • Marshall High School of Computers and Information Technology sponsored by Dominion Resources
  • Wythe High School of Entrepreneurship, Management and Real Estate sponsored by Capital One
Each of these high schools would offer a general education curriculum to fulfill state standards, but would have industry-oriented electives to further training and individual interest in that area. A school-wide topic of emphasis would translate into all courses. For example, history students would learn about the development of vaccines at the school of biotechnology, science and the environment.

Currently, RPS has a few terrific examples of successful targeted skill high schools in Open and Community. I remember at a citizen input meeting on hiring the superintendent this past December a parent raised the question; why can’t all Richmond High Schools be specialized? Good question. 

The businesses in and around Richmond would benefit because we would be developing students with applicable market skills. A failure of some workforce development programs is the slow moving nature of publicly funded and developed programs which cannot react quickly to changing needs of the marketplace. 

Also, let’s allow business to market their product by branding classrooms, lockers, or hallways NASCAR-style. If you worry about the impact this may have on students, I would argue that it is far less than our current system of poorly funded schools with out-of-date infrastructure, low teacher pay and access to technology.   

From the students’ perspective, they get to explore the question that is most often thrown at them; what am I going to do with my life? Through a more targeted curriculum they can gain personal experience with different trades instead of moving slowing towards this general goal of college. This pursuit of applicable education will hopefully instill a renewed love of learning. Personally, my favorite years of school were those pursuing my graduate degree and undergraduate classes in my major.

Secondly, students get a great chance to fail, or find out what they really don’t like doing. All of this is highly important to learn before they are $80,000 into debt trying to figure it out in college, or even worse in the workplace afterwards. This is why we should look at our working vs. school age when compared to worldwide competitors. There are lessons to be learned from the apprenticeship system of Europe in that the ability for one to try out the marketplace as a 16 year-old can be an incredible learning tool.

Overall, this is a huge win-win for the student, business and society. So, how do we start this in Richmond?

The RPS webpage for partnerships already lists local industry leaders such as Capital One, Genworth Financial, and Altria that give money or services to the schools. What I would challenge these companies to do is to maximize their efficiency in giving. If you have a company full of experts on business loans and investment, are they better off installing landscaping at a local school, or teaching an economic class?

Capital One at Miles Jones Elementary (2013) 

My challenge to the superintendent of RPS, Dr. Bedden, would be to develop a model for private companies to further partner with high schools. An example of this agreement could be modeled off of the Minnesota Department of Education’s Adopt-A-School initiative. Then, go after these partnerships.  

As for individuals and neighborhood-level groups, your partnerships would best serve these students by furthering non-cognitive based development skills through mentorship and community engagement. Terrific examples of this type of partnership can be seen in with Church Hill Academies and Tutoring and my friend Jim Thompson’s own personal mission to mentor youth in the east end of Richmond. Faith based institutions can look to models such as Church Adopt-A-School partnerships.

Furthermore, organizations such as Communities in Schools already are setting up a network of coordinating counseling and other services to serve high school-aged students through PLC’s or specialized high school programs within schools.
Besides service, help could also be given financially through giving online to websites where individual teacher driven classroom requests are posted.  

In the end, the young adult age may be our most troubled population.  Any study of crime trends will back this up, but it can also be the age where change is quickly made. This American Life’s account of a Chicago teenager’s  fight out of poverty by rediscovering her purpose through non-cognitive based skills development can produce drastic results in a short period. Couple this will a targeted, market-based approach to education, and we will begin to develop a system that instills a love for learning, while also preparing students with the essential personal and market skills for a life of success. 

Continue reading for Partnership #3: Technology!