By Nicholas von Wettberg
With the end of the school year fast approaching, another crop of high school seniors prepares to embark on the next phase of their lives.
These students will ideally enter their post-secondary experience equipped with an academic skill set diverse enough to help them face the challenging climate ahead, as college students, company interns, or workers in the market.
The Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD), aware of how critical it is for students “to develop sophisticated technical, academic, critical thinking and problem solving skill sets,” has been attempting to fill those needs through its Career Technical Education (CTE) and Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) curriculum.
District Superintendent Winfred Roberson placed a priority on six specific objectives, prior to the 2015-16 school year, in an “effort to expand, enhance and improve CTE/STEM offerings.”
The six specific objectives are: qualify Davis Senior High School as a national STEM school; integrate STEA2M (STEM + Arts & Agriculture) thinking in to the high school curriculum; increase student interest and participation in CTE/STEA2M offerings; design, develop and expand CTE/STEA2M pathways and offerings at DHS and in the district; build a CTE/STEA2M community support network for students and teachers; seek CTE/STEA2M related internship opportunities for students.
A reconvening of the 39-member CTE/STEA2M Advisory Team, on March 1, 2016, produced a number of refined recommendations for the DJUSD Board of Education, which will meet this Thursday, March 17, at the Community Chambers.
The refined recommendations up for motion are in response to comments made by Board members after receiving the initial Advisory Committee Report, presented to them at the meeting on February 4.
During that presentation, Associate Superintendent Clark Bryant, a member of the Advisory Team, reported to the Board that the process is already underway for meeting the first of the six objectives – qualifying Davis Senior High School (DHS) as a national STEM school.
“I’d like you to know that we’ve already submitted that application through the national consortium for secondary STEM schools,” Bryant said. “Part of the application process is explaining the academic rigor at Davis Senior High School, also a display of academic offerings, what are some of the affiliations of Davis High School has with local industry partners, and also with local colleges and universities.”
According to Bryant, in the second objective, which is integrating STEA2M thinking across school and curriculum, professional development is a key to providing opportunities for CTE; teachers engaged about “curriculum integration” with “group interdisciplinary discussions,” and making sure that there is early entry and access into programs by students offered for consideration.
He said a segment of the committee emphasized that support be placed in the program areas where STEA2M thinking is embedded, so that it can be used as a model, or learning tool for curriculum areas.
As for increasing student interest and participation in CTE/STEA2M courses, which is the third objective, the committee had ideas about recruitment and outreach, starting even as early as fifth grade.
“Making sure that students have a clear pathway to what CTE/STEA2M thinking courses we’d be able to present for them,” Bryant said.
Aligning courses so that students can participate in a sequence of CTE courses was another suggested point of emphasis, courtesy of the committee, ever mindful about “how we’re integrating across different content areas so that we’re integrating across the STEA2M types of curricula areas.”
The fourth objective is to design, develop and expand CTE/STEA2M pathways and offerings at DHS, to which Bryant explained, “this one is having clearly defined goals and a definition for those pathways, and for the programming for the district, and this was something the committee members felt was a basic element needed in developing and expanding the pathways, so that we have a foundational piece in place for students to have a clear understanding of what that direction is.”
Another aspect to the recommendations was, that shifts in FTE (Full Time Equivalent) needed to be taken into account, and some of the dynamics that might be impacted at master scheduling.
“So as we’re thinking about pathways, what is happening to the overall master schedule, so that we know what the impacts are in other content areas, and what shifts might take place in FTE,” Bryant said. “And to make sure that we proceed appropriately with those in consideration.”
Building a CTE/STEA2M community support network for students and teachers is the fifth district objective. Bryant said ideas revolved around developing networks of support for students and teachers, with a focus on “administrative support coordination,” in order to provide a sound infrastructure.
“We also want to make sure that we’re increasing community partnerships, branding the program so that they are easily recognizable, identifiable to students, parents and the greater community,” said Bryant, who added that the committee looked at some of the overlapping themes, such as this one, and increasing pathways for student interest and participation in CTE/STEA2M offerings.
The sixth, and final objective, seeking CTE/STEA2M related internship opportunities for students, is already taking shape.
Bryant cited as one example the efforts of DaVinci Charter Academy’s Internship Specialist Susan Kirby, who, along with serving on the Advisory Team, has networked throughout the community, making connections with the Davis Chamber of Commerce, and making sure that students are placed in internships that spark a high level of interest and can make some connections to future careers for them.
Several internships are currently being offered at DHS, with some students assisting in various fields at UC Davis, although Bryant pointed out what a challenge it is for teachers to find the time to network with entities offering up internship opportunities. As a result, collaboration support and coordination makes up part of the recommendation.
District CTE Coordinator Alex Hess ended the presentation portion of the BoE meeting, on Feb. 4, with a brief overview of model standards for CTE.
“Recently, as you know, whether its NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards), or Common Core in English Language Arts, we have some new standards that are Board approved that we’re addressing,” Hess said. “Along with that, state standards for CTE have been revised to reflect that and have been adopted January 16, 2013.”
Hess added: “Along with that, we see that the alignment with Common Core to assure that they are college and career-ready standards. There are 12 college and career-ready standards, regardless of CTE. What we’re saying is from K through 12, if you’re college and career-ready, these 12 standards are something we’re working towards for every student.”
According to Hess, who also serves on the CTE/STEA2M Advisory Team, those 12 standards are broken down into sub-categories of anchor standards, pathway standards, and standards for career-ready practices.
“There are eleven anchor standards that run through any industry sector, in any career pathway, whether it’s through agriculture, or computers, or auto, if it’s a CTE sequence of courses, they’re addressing anchor standards,” Hess explained to the Board. “English language arts, health and safety, leadership…regardless of the program that you’re in you’re going to be touching base with those anchor standards.”
Represented, or recognized by the state board of California are 15 industry sectors, and within each of them are anywhere from three to seven pathways.
“And then the pathways provide a framework of standards that are suitable for seventh through twelfth grade that provide a framework for us to develop courses that provide a depth and breath of knowledge and experiences to assure that we’re developing skill sets in our students to be workplace ready and college ready in these career fields,” said Hess.
Additionally, Bryant informed the Board that part of the reason for bringing the college and career-ready standards to light is because the district has received funding opportunities through different grants.
Funding is being made available through two California Careers Pathways Trust Competitive Grants. The Title of Award for the first is the Central Region Agriculture Education Pathways Consortium, for an amount of $15 million.
District pathways provided for the grant, which will fund the DJUSD $185,000 over two years, are Agriculture Mechanics, Agriscience, and Ornamental Horticulture, with totals based on program & needs assessment for each targeted pathway.
For the second grant, the Title of Award is through the Northern California STREAM (Science, Technology, Research, Engineering, Arts and Math) Pathways Consortium, with a total award amount of roughly $7.7 million. The DJUSD pathways are directed at Animal Science and Hospitality, and the funding amount for the district is approximately $150,000 per year.
Progress towards those grants will be dependent on how the district adheres to standards, which plays into some of the reasoning for the recommendations.
Bryant also informed the Board, at the meeting on Feb. 4, that the district had submitted an application for another grant through the state’s Career Technical Education Center, with a potential for funding of $500,000.
Trustee Tom Adams asked the salient question if any discussions with employers in the areas of Yolo, Sacramento and Solano Counties had taken place about whether this is the right preparation for students.
“Because one of the things we often do is we move forward on this and we think we’re preparing them for industry,” Adams said. “But then the question is, sometimes industry finds themselves in this position, saying, ‘well, that was good, but the field’s moved a little bit,’ and so is there any mechanism for ensuring that we keep talking to industry and not just following the standards but following the demands of the local workforce?”
In response to the question posed by Adams, Superintendent Roberson said that part of the reason for the Advisory Committee was using its members as resources.
Adams also had concern about the inclusion of students focusing in on subjects, such as History and Language Arts, which he said doesn’t fit into the scope of STEA2M curriculum.
“But if you are more of that orientation, can you still be fine as a type of CTE pathway?” Adams asked. “Is it only because if you fit into one of those letters in the acronym of STEA2M, can you still get some type of career technical education?
Board Vice President/Clerk Barbara Archer wondered if the committee had discussed the interrelated topic of coding.
“From what I hear, that’s really the wave of the future,” Archer said. “If you can write code you have a job for life and kids today are starting to do that in elementary school, and so does the committee have a plan in place to look at that and bring it across the district…that it’s not like a course you take in high school and then you forget about it, but really developing a career path with regard to that?”
Pilot programs are in place at a number of elementary-level sites but nothing has been systemized, according to Bryant.
A coding program (in conjunction with our Bridge programs) for fourth through sixth graders that serves upwards of 25 students, and meets at Montgomery every Tuesday and Thursday, from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m.
The program is under the leadership of volunteers and computer science students from UC Davis.
Another coding pilot program, called Python Room, was started at the Emerson computer science class with Tim McCormick. A similar program has begun at Holmes, while another one at Harper is in the works.
Internships are a key part of the overall objectives, according to Archer, who asked if the committee has discussed requirements for creating a robust internship program for grades nine through twelve.
Structuring internship experiences is one of the priorities of the Advisory Team, responded Bryant. Some require research, while others require hands-on type of work, so that a variety would be offered.
When it came to his turn for questions, or comments, Trustee Alan Fernandes circled back to the first objective – the accreditation of DHS as a national STEM school.
“Who is the private entity that does it, what does it mean, how many other district’s have that accreditation, what does accreditation cost, does it entitle us to more grant money?” Fernandes asked in rapid fire.
DHS Vice-Principal Tom McHale, also on the Advisory team, said the site accreditation opportunities would give them a chance to network with these institutions (NCSS), to participate in conferences, and receive information from other schools about their program.
McHale did confirm that an aspect to the accreditation fulfillment would mean additional funding through consortium grants.
Board President Madhavi Sunder asked if during the application process, there were some particular strengths or noticeable areas to improve in that warranted attention.
“I think we’re all learning together, those areas where could grow, and I think this is part of the process,” McCale said. “I think it’s a giant leap forward for our school and our district. On a personal level, putting together the application, I was just incredibly impressed with the work our teachers are doing and the achievement of our students, our classroom instructors on a daily basis providing our students with what they need. All the programs, the internships, the connections we have in industry and with local colleges and universities, it’s really an amazing thing.”
School Board Member Susan Lovenburg asked if the committee was thinking about what sort of facilities there are to support high-quality CTE programs.
Bryant said that some programs, such as the Culinary Arts, and the greenhouse with the Agriculture Mechanics/Horticulture are being primed for facility needs.
One of the quality criteria, explained Alex Hess, who is in charge of the greenhouse, is addressing facility needs, so every program, if not currently, should be getting in to a mode of what are our facility needs to get it running for what you’d like to do inside of it.
Piggybacking on the concern raised by Trustee Archer, about the level of involvement with coding, in kindergarten through twelve, Board President Sunder asked “to what extent is the committee systematically looking at bringing coding up, from K though 12 and to all students and during the school day, so not just as after-school programs, at schools here, or there, but thinking systematically in terms of our CTE/STEA2M program, how we’d want to build it in the next five years?”
Sunder followed her question up with another, about whether the committee thinks there is bandwidth to look at options.
“There are many folks, even in Davis, like Harry Chang, who does the C-STEM program at UC Davis, there’s Barobo, which is based here in Davis…and the Davis code camp. There are other robotics/coding programs that are being developed here, for K through 12 school systems, is that something your committee would investigate, in terms of whether some are a good fit, or not?”
The refined recommendations the district is requesting of the Board for the upcoming meeting, this Thursday, begins with the second objective, which is support for professional growth in CTE, Curriculum Integration, and CTE/STEA2M.
As for the third objective, increasing student interest and participation in CTE/STEA2M courses, the district recommends support for the CTE coordinator, the development of PTA/PTO Community supported Career Days at all junior high schools, and continuing to expand the Electives Road Show.
The biggest refinement the district made was in regards to the fourth objective on the list: to design, develop and expand pathways.
Courtesy of the Board’s input, support is now being requested to provide time to articulate programs vertically and horizontally and between junior high schools, high schools, and post-secondary programs; develop a funding plan to address facility needs of current programs and align to current industry standards; identify, promote, and communicate integrated core courses (physics, math, art) with CTE/STEA2M to contribute to pathway development; provide industry pathways and course specific professional development to teachers.
Fifth on the list of objectives is the building of a CTE/STEA2M community support network for students and teachers.
The district recommends the establishment of a standing CTE/STEA2M Advisory Committee to provide guidance to the district; provide flex time in CTE/STEA2M teachers’ schedules to meet with industry, network, and work on mandatory projects unique to their program areas.
The main revision for providing CTE/STEA2M related internship opportunities for students, the sixth objective, is the recommendation of creating a position that is the district liaison to community and industry on internship matters.