Last fall, Austin Tech Alliance endorsed the November 2017 Austin ISD (AISD) bond proposal that included $55 million for district-wide technological improvements. As a means of keeping our members and Austin’s broader tech sector up to date, ATA has been monitoring the implementation of the bond after it overwhelmingly passed.
Overall, there has already been a lot investment made in building out a more tech-conscious educational environment. To date, ten modernization projects for campuses have been kicked off, 14 project teams have been brought on board, and more than 100 Campus Architectural Team and campus Planning Team meetings have been held.
According to Kevin Schwartz, AISD’s Chief Technology Officer, the 2017 bond funds are just starting to be tapped to provide replacement computers for teachers. Remaining 2013 bond funds are being utilized while the 2017 funds have been earmarked to sustain existing tech initiatives. In fiscal year 2018-19, $10.9 million will be spent on district-wide technology upgrades that include teacher computers, network infrastructure, and computer lab upgrades.
An exciting result of the bond’s technology funds is the creation and success of the Technology Career Launch Program at Reagan Early College High School. The program, a partnership with ATA member Dell Technologies and Austin Community College, allows students to earn an associate degree in computer science and represents an important investment in the future of Austin’s tech sector. Career Launch provides students the opportunity to graduate with their high school diploma, an associate degree, industry certifications, and practical workplace experience and mentoring.
Career Launch is structured around ensuring that the student’s experience and learned skills are aligned to the needs of the 21st century workforce. To do this, Dell provides mentors and job shadowing for the students. This close relationship between school system and employer prepares students to graduate school with both the credentials and skills necessary to be competitive in the workforce. During the Career Launch program, students are paired with a mentor, develop career-ready skills, and – once graduated – are guaranteed a job interview with Dell.
Jada Fraser, an ATA intern, sat down with AISD Associate Superintendent Dr. Craig Shapiro to learn more about the Career Launch program and the importance of creating environments for students to gain tech-industry skills and experience.
According to Dr. Shapiro, the theory behind creating the Career Launch program was to prepare today’s workforce for tomorrow’s future, and in order to do so AISD had to change. “One of the issues I see is that even when students have a credential, they can’t get that first job. And the reason they can’t get that first job is not because they didn’t do what we told them to do in school. In fact, that’s all they did and now they can’t sit through an interview.”
Dr. Shapiro explains that while every other industry has evolved to meet the needs of the present, the school system that was first designed in the 1880s to meet the needs of a largely agricultural and factory-based workforce has remained stagnant for generations. That system places value on being on time, handing things in on time, sitting for long periods of time, conforming, not being disruptive, not talking to your neighbor, and not being an individual. So students graduate after being trained for 12-16 years and they go into a world where they’re being asked to do the exact opposite. Employers want people who can work in teams, solve problems that don’t have answers in the back of the book, be self-starting, and ask questions.
The skill set of the 21st century – communication, collaboration, cultural proficiency, critical thinking, connectivity – are the areas in which the current school model is can be greatly improved. Dr. Shapiro continued: “The reason AISD created this program is because we’re reinventing the urban school experience, [and] Career Launch falls under that. We’re trying to change the expectations of kids and how we teach and what we teach and how we prove that kids can do things.”