Students at Milby High School are learning about the latest technologies in HVAC repair in a building constructed in 1926, long before air conditioning was even installed.
Over the years, the school has figured out innovative ways to squeeze many sorts of career and technical education into its outdated space, from welding rooms to a print shop. But Principal Roy de la Garza anxiously awaits the construction of a new Milby High under the 2012 bond program.
“If the kids have the appropriate technology and have a space that feels good and looks good, they’re only going to do better,” he said.
Across the district, educators are looking at the $1.89 billion building program as a unique opportunity to transform not only their buildings but the way they instruct students, especially career and technical programs aimed at bridging the gap between the classroom and the workforce or higher education.
“The decisions we make with the facilities are the key to changing how we educate our students for the 21st century,” said Alan Summers, HISD assistant superintendent for College and Career Readiness.
HISD has one dedicated high school for careers, Barbara Jordan High School in the northeast part of the city. With more than 920 students, it offers a variety of options in career and technical education.
For some students who live across the city, that school may not be a realistic option because of transportation and logistical concerns. As the new bond schools are built, HISD administrators want to ensure they offer programs and state-of-the art facilities that help students stay in their neighborhood schools or minimize the need for travel.
“We want to equalize access to high-quality programming across the district,” Summers said. “That transformation involves trying to make sure we identify what programs we need to have and where we need to have them.”
The district took the first steps last summer by setting up Houston Innovative Learning Zone programs at six high schools to boost the number of schools where students can simultaneously earn industry certifications and college credits in high-demand, high-growth industries, such as network/computer administration and process technology.
Five of the six schools are slated to be rebuilt or renovated under the bond program, which will permit the district to redesign them. On a practical level, that means designing buildings with flexible spaces that have the plumbing and electrical infrastructure to support career offerings that may change in coming years.
Another key will be creating schools that offer opportunities for students to use their skills in a storefront setting through school-based enterprises. Think of an auto repair program at a school where neighbors can take their vehicles for tune-ups and maintenance. That facility would need a way “for people to engage with the school, but not be in the school,” Summers said.
The district isn’t waiting for the new schools for change to start happening. On April 16, Summers is taking a group of HISD principals and teachers by bus to the Dallas area to tour Grand Prairie ISD’s Dubiski Career High School, which looks more like an office building that a traditional high school.
They will also visit New Tech High School in Coppell, designed to encourage collaborative learning with an emphasis on project-based and hands-on lessons. The next day, back in Houston, Summers will conduct a half-day symposium for educators to offer training on how to connect career and technical education into the traditional core classes.
“It’s to get teachers inspired,” Summers said. “When they see what that collaboration looks like, they’re going to be so excited they’ll want to make it happen now.”
De la Garza doesn’t need any convincing. Last month, on another tour, he visited both Dubiski and New Tech last month. What he saw made him even more optimistic about the possibilities at Milby, where he envisions a retail storefront where students will be able to use their restaurant or print shop skills in the “real world.”
“Instead of sitting in a classroom and talking about running a business, (students) can actually go out and run a business,” he said.