Midlothian students will have the opportunity to work in a collaborative and shared workspace by the 2020-21 school year.
Nikki Nix, Midlothian ISD secondary education director, said the old JR Irvin Elementary school will be repurposed to accommodate upper-level career and technology courses. This will allow students to get real-world hands-on experience in the fields they are interested in.
"It's really about connecting kids to their careers, igniting that passion inside of them and giving that opportunity to explore that in high school," she said.
The building renovation is currently in the design phase and students will be able to start their career-based classes in the space in two years.
The center will be used by juniors and seniors while underclassmen will start their CTE courses at their home campuses.
The available courses include agriculture, business management, health science and information technology to name a few.
CTE classes are used to help students realize what they want to do, even if that means they don’t need a traditional college degree, Nix noted. She and other organizers are looking at the job demands in the metroplex and the state to make sure those align with the repurpose.
In the metroplex, corporate headquarters, health care and digital technology industries are growing. In the state, the focus is on business management, information technology and health science.
"We need to make sure we are graduating kids that can go into that workforce and fill those jobs,” Nix said.
The district currently offers CTE classes at Midlothian Heritage High School and Midlothian High School. Many of the courses are duplicated except the culinary, aerospace and civil engineering programs. The culinary classes and civil engineering classes are available at Midlothian High School while aerospace is offered at Heritage.
Nix added the two high schools can come together in the new space.
The culinary arts program, for instance, will be available to both high schools in a mutual location. The space will also allow students to work in an industrial kitchen and get their certification before they even graduate, she noted.
With the industrial-sized kitchen, students will run a bistro-style cafe which will be open to the public, Nix added.
"We wanted to provide students the opp to be in a real industrial kitchen," she said.
Another example of the programs that will be offered following the repurpose is INCubatoredu, which is modeled after the show “Shark Tank.”
INCubatoredu will allow students to identify a problem in the community and start working with a mentor weekly to develop a product or service to fix that problem, Nix said.
She explained the students will then pitch the product during the spring of their junior year to investors who will decide if they receive seed money to complete their project.
"We knew we needed to connect our students to the community,” Nix noted.
District officials are currently contacting local business owners to assist in the development of the entire CTE program once the repurpose is completely renovated, Nix said. She also noted officials spoke about the need to mentors, coaches and donors during an innovators breakfast.
Jason Jacobus, vice president of sales at Buckley Oil Company, said — from a business perspective — this will set students apart.
He said the CTE courses and the center will create differentiated experiences between students that will make them hireable.
"What you did in sports or standardized testing isn’t even going to get you a phone interview," Jacobus noted.
This will also allow the business to be an active participant in the community, he said.
"We want to make sure we are involved in the community,” he said. “We want to be part of a program that I would love to send my kids through and I would love to hire employees out of."
While taking these courses and working with business leaders, students can also take career-based core required classes. For example, instead of taking a basic English class, students can take business English to fill that graduation requirement, Nix said.
Midlothian ISD Superintendent Dr. Lane Ledbetter said student value isn’t based on a standardized test but on preparing them for the futures they want to have.
He noted that many jobs they will need to fill may not even exist yet, so the goal is to make the district’s students problem solvers.
The district needs its students to be adaptable and agile, Ledbetter said. The repurpose will help with that by creating a space similar to what they will encounter after graduation.
“We don't focus on preparing them for a test. You won't hear us in Midlothian ISD talking about state accountability, rankings of our schools, grades of our schools,” he said. “It's not about that for us. It's about preparing them."
Samantha Douty, @SamanthaDouty