Midlothian Independent School District has been planning a career campus for many years, and in 2016 voters approved as a part of a bond package just such an educational facility.
The Midlothian Innovative Learning Experience (MILE) will be located on the former J.R. Irvin Elementary campus and is scheduled to open next August with a full four-year program. The MILE will house five programs — Entrepreneurship, Cybersecurity, Civil Engineering, Aerospace Engineering and Culinary Arts — that students at both MISD high schools can enroll in.
Getting the MILE constructed is the district’s biggest concern, and progress on the renovation of the former elementary building was discussed at the Oct. 21 meeting of the MISD board of trustees. The board voted to review the bid of Pete Durant, the lowest bidder for the project, to see where money can be saved, and in the meantime authorize some of the preliminary work to expedite the timeline.
Board president Matt Sanders pointed out that Durant has not been officially hired to construct the school, and assistant superintendent Jim Norris told board members that the school will be doing its own preliminary work.
Norris said the original elementary school, which was built in 1954, will need sprinklers installed, and asbestos abatement and plumbing updates will also need to be done.
“The timeframe on this is seven or eight months,” Norris said. “That’s going to be critical. We’ve got to get in there.”
Norris said the district has $5 million unofficially set aside to finish the MILE. Answering a question from trustee Gary Vineyard, Norris estimated that the complete project as it stood at the time was about $6 million but that he was looking for ways to cut that number down.
“That’s a lot more than the original plan was,” Norris said, “but when the original plan was put out there when we did the election, the scope wasn’t anything like this. I think you’ve seen over the last few weeks it’s changed a lot.”
Norris said the district received seven bids from contractors for construction of the MILE, of which the Durant bid was the lowest. A number of subcontractor bids have also been submitted but not enough for the district to serve as its own contractor, Norris added, which could’ve saved the district some money.
On the plus side, Norris said, Google has made a significant donation toward funding the MILE’s cybersecurity program.
Nikki Nix, Midlothian ISD’s director of secondary learning, updated trustees on the design of the new campus and said the five programs of study were chosen after looking at data from the Texas Education Agency and Texas Workforce Commission.
“Eighty-five percent of the jobs in 2030 wouldn’t have existed prior,” Nix told the board. “So whatever we’re doing here has to be flexible. We’re trying to graduate kids with skills for jobs that don’t exist yet. We need to maximize the space and opportunities for students, and I think we’ve tried to maximize that with flexible walls and not just the furniture like we have in some of our other campuses.”
One of the features of the new campus is what’s called the “INCubator,” a program for the entrepreneurship program. Curriculum coaches will do weekly specialty lessons with students over the course of the year, and in the spring, students will make their big pitch to ask for seed money to launch their business.
“That’s where students identify that problem or service that’s missing from their community,” Nix said. “They work with a mentor weekly to develop that product, to look at market size, to look at forecast revenues and to develop a marketing plan and develop that product.”
Nix said the MILE’s design is intended to replicate an authentic workplace environment. A new entrance to the rear of the building will highlight the experience for students and business partners alike, she told the board.
The culinary arts area is designed to be open to the public, where customers can come in to grab a coffee and a scone from the pastry area.
“We don’t want it to feel like a school,” she said. “We want our students to have an authentic real-world experience when they come here. We want our business partners to respect it and recognize that it is a business place.”
Shelle Blaylock, administrator of the MILE, said the district is working to promote the MILE to parents, students and business partners. Several informational meetings have been scheduled for families, and the district held a partnership breakfast on Oct. 30 for business and industry leaders.
The program currently has 543 total students from Midlothian High School and 335 from Heritage High School enrolled in programs of study that are aligned with the MILE.
Nix said the goal is to have a total of 250 students enrolled at the MILE next year, with 25 enrolled in each of the five programs in morning and afternoon cohorts.
Nix added that some of the principles being incorporated in the MILE may soon be seen in other programs all throughout the MISD.
“It’s a really cool opportunity for students to be able to do that inside our entrepreneurship program and we want students to have access to those experts outside of just entrepreneurship,” Nix said. “The coaching, the mentoring, we want to take that and replicate that in all our programs across the district, not just at the MILE or INCubator.”