As the superintendent of a large urban high school district, I have the opportunity to help identify and implement innovative programs that help prepare our students for success.

In my seven years leading East Side Union (CA) High School District (ESUHSD), I’ve watched our schools empower students to transform their lives and thrive in a global society. We’ve seen impressive growth, and a big element of our success is due to the partnerships we have forged. We’ve collaborated successfully with curriculum partners who are demonstrably aligned with our district goals and sensitive to the challenges teachers face in the classroom. Most importantly, we’ve sought out partners who offer evidence-based, research-backed programs with proven impact.

In 2016, ESUHSD adopted a renewed focus on Career and Technical Education (CTE), centered on the kind of project-based learning that would help our students be better prepared for life after high school. We believe developing students’ entrepreneurial thinking is an important part of preparing them for the future beyond high school, and research suggests youth entrepreneurship education can also help develop important non-cognitive skills such as communication and collaboration, creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking. These essential soft skills can orient young people to success and is a key component that employers in Silicon Valley are looking for. Developing these skills is the best way for our students to be able to access the innovation economy in our own backyard.

How to instill an entrepreneurial mindset district-wide #k12

But it’s important to find the right curriculum partner. After much consideration, including the cost to the district, the implementation process, and the value to our students, we chose to collaborate with the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). NFTE is an internationally recognized nonprofit organization that focuses on bringing its unique programs to students in under-resourced communities. Their approach to activating the entrepreneurial mindset is grounded in project-based learning and emphasizes building startup skills.

NFTE has served well over a million young people since its founding in the late 1980s and is currently active in 22 states across the U.S. Their impact is proven: 74 percent of NFTE program alumni enroll in college and 89 percent say the skills they learned through NFTE classes help them in business and in life. The organization is well-equipped to help ESUHSD meet our goals, deliver the results we want for our students, and bring valuable training and professional-development (PD) opportunities to our teachers.

About the Author:

Chris Funk is the superintendent of East Side Union High School District in San Jose, California.


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