With the goal of instilling the entrepreneurial mindset district-wide, we have focused on three areas: programmatic alignment with our learning goals, relationships and frameworks for connecting with businesses, and PD that engages and excites our classroom teachers.

Aligning initiatives to key district focus areas
ESUHSD has a strong commitment to CTE. Our CTE Pathways programs extend to 11 high schools in our district, and a key part of this program is project-based learning, with a focus on soft skills such as communication and collaboration, creativity and innovation, critical thinking, and problem-solving. NFTE’s approach to teaching the entrepreneurial mindset involves hands-on, real-world learning that connects students to career pathways, making NFTE a perfect fit for our existing culture. After completing NFTE’s award-winning curriculum, our students gain experience working with adults, navigating challenges and failures, and are ultimately better prepared for the complexities of the business world.

Leveraging relationships with corporate and community partners
A core part of any CTE program is the hands-on experience students need to fully understand what different career paths look like, leading to a potential career. One of things NFTE brings to the table is its relationships with a broad spectrum of business and industry partners. It can rally an enthusiastic volunteer corps drawn from local Bay Area businesses as well as major corporations such as EY, SAP, Citi, PayPal, and Microsoft. NFTE volunteers bring their real-life experience into the classroom, serving as mentors and business-plan coaches and helping students begin to build their professional networks.

Supporting new initiatives with comprehensive PD and teacher training
Engaging classroom teachers is vital to the success of any initiative we implement. NFTE provides ESUHSD educators with curriculum support, offers relevant PD, and promotes rich collaboration through its professional learning communities. That’s allowed our educators to expand their professional relationships beyond the district and connect with educators from all over the country. NFTE gives teachers the support they need for student design challenges, mentoring activities, and business-plan competitions.

The results of activating the entrepreneurial mindset in ESUHSD students have been tremendous. More than 500 East Side students complete the NFTE programs annually, and that’s improved their self-reliance, comfort with risk, communication, and problem-solving skills. They’re more likely to attend college, pursue higher level jobs and internships, and even start their own businesses. It’s been exciting to watch our teachers connect with their students in new ways—and to see our students embrace the entrepreneurial mindset. They graduate prepared for lifelong success, equipped with real-world career experiences and connections, and ready to thrive in the innovation economy.

Leading a school district is much more than supervising the curriculum, functions, and business aspects of our schools. I have the responsibility of ensuring that ESUHSD students graduate from high school with the skills they need to excel in their adult lives. Working with NFTE has enabled our district to build a robust entrepreneurial career pathway in the heart of Silicon Valley, expanded our relationships with local businesses, and given our teachers invaluable resources and support to teach the workforce of the next generation.

Resource box
For additional insight, download this white paper from the National Inventors Hall of Fame: How to Prepare the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

About the Author:

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