A new type of school will enter Chicago’s public education system next fall, a kind of high school-community college hybrid that, if successful, could one day become a model for preparing students for professional STEM careers without a university diploma.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel helped secure a $400,000 “challenge grant” from IBM that will lay the groundwork for as many as five new schools in Chicago Public Schools in 2012-13, each offering technical training in areas such as computer technology and engineering.
The schools are a departure from traditional vocational high schools because incoming freshmen could be enrolled for up to six years and leave school with an associate’s degree and specialized training. Graduates also will be given preference for entry-level jobs at IBM.
“If we’re going to really meet our commitment to young people to say, ‘You’re going to be prepared for entry-level jobs in a good-paying career, not just a job that leads to a dead end,’ they’re going to need an associate’s degree,” said Robin Willner, an IBM executive who’s overseeing the Chicago initiative. “This is not about narrowing a student’s opportunity. It’s saying not only will you be first in line for a job at IBM, but also prepared for an IT career [elsewhere].”
In selling the proposal for a longer school day, Emanuel and CPS chief Jean-Claude Brizard have talked about the need to increase opportunities not only for college-bound students but for those who bypass college to enter the workforce immediately. The challenge, Brizard has said, is that many graduates lack the real-world training to land “21st century” jobs in math, science, and technology.
Willner said these new schools will help fill that niche by partnering students with mentors from IBM and other businesses, by creating a path to college beginning in the ninth grade, and by challenging students with college-level work and specialized, hands-on training.
But many of the details have yet to be sorted out. It’s unclear if these five new schools will, in fact, be new schools or whether existing high schools will be expanded to accommodate the new curricula. This month, IBM will also begin the process of identifying teachers within CPS who would like to receive training to be a part of the program.