The innovative district where career prep is the only focus

eSN: What is it about this type of occupational model that’s attractive to students?

Torres: The students attracted to this model have an affinity for project-based learning. This is really STEM learning at its best. We like to say, as a technical high school system, that STEM instruction is not separate and distinct, but STEM is really a form of instructing here. It’s what we do on a day-to-day basis. It’s really allowing our students the opportunity to engage in problem solving, critical thinking.

eSN: What are some challenges that are unique to overseeing a technical high school district?

Torres: Our biggest challenge is our ability to pivot and be able to respond quickly to the emerging needs or trends within industries. For example, now we see this resurgent need for folks who are trained in manufacturing, and we have to respond to that as quickly as possible. We can’t always do that because that means that we need to retrofit or create a new program and that can be challenging.

The other challenge, closely linked to that, is our ability to project, three to five years ahead. We look at our state’s department of labor statistics, and also at national statistics as well. What are businesses going to need here in CT or nationally? That’s incredibly challenging, and both of these issues are very unique to this kind of system.

eSN: How does that compare to STEM learning that takes place in a traditional district?

Torres: It’s not confined to a specific course. It’s what is achieved on a day-to-day basis. Our teachers do a fabulous job of integrating technology into the education via science, technology, engineering, and math. So, when you think about all of the things that appeal to students and their parents in this particular economy, to see that once students leave here, they could potentially be earning anywhere from eighteen to twenty dollars an hour in a field like manufacturing. For an 18 year old, that’s huge.

eSN: I imagine that the way that technology is integrated and deployed is very different at your district than it would be at a traditional high school. Whereas most districts are focusing on district-wide one-to-one initiatives, are your technology needs much more specific?

Torres: We are also doing the one-to-one transition for our academic-track students. We started implementing that model this year at Kaynor Tech in Waterbury. But overall, technology plays a very different and active role in our district. We have over 33 career pathways, and technology is used in a variety of ways in each one.

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