Many students graduate high school not knowing what they want to do next. Often, they head out of state for college or jobs and stay outside Alaska for the rest of their lives. Anchorage School District hopes a new focus within the eight high schools across its district on readying students for college or careers will help drive student engagement, increase graduation rates, keep students in Alaska long-term, and boost Alaska’s workforce. Anchorage School District $15 million.
More CTE Students, More Industry Involvement
Anchorage School District (ASD) is preparing for a major change in how it teaches high school students. Recognizing a five-year trend of stagnant graduation rates in the low 80 percent range and poor attendance among students following COVID-19 school closures (75 percent of the student population attended school 90 percent of the time or more prior to 2020; 52 percent of students attend at that rate today), Senior Director of Teaching and Learning Kersten Johnson says Anchorage is poised to begin a district-wide pivot to career-track training, beginning with the incoming freshmen in 2024.
But to make the career-track training successful, she says, the district needs the help of Alaska business and industry professionals. She spoke at an October 5 Resource Development Council breakfast forum in Anchorage.
ASD already has several great career and technical education (CTE) programs, Johnson says. Those programs consistently show greater engagement with students and graduation rates 10 percent higher than students not attending CTE programs. She says the district wants to bring that engagement and post-high school success to every student at ASD. A much greater level of participation is needed by professionals in Alaska. The involvement is needed now, while the district is still in the planning phase, she says.
“We really need industry professionals advising us along the way,” she says. “I need professionals in the room helping me say, ‘This is the industry credential we really need.’”
The district partnered with Ford Next Generation Learning (a program provided by the Ford Motor Company Fund, the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company) that focuses on building career academies within education. Johnson says the program focuses on three areas: changing how teaching and learning happens in secondary education; changing school structures, cultures, and systems; and transforming partnerships between schools and communities.
Cindy Chaput, director of College, Career and Life Ready at ASD says the learning structure would change because core courses, such as math, language arts, and science, would be driven through the lens of the CTE courses students are taking. Engineering-related science might look significantly different than medical-related science classes, for example.
From Freshman Academy to Career Track
Chaput says the goal is that incoming freshmen would enter what’s called Freshman Academy. There, they’ll be assessed and students who need help will get it to make sure they are working at grade level with their peers. They’ll participate in a CTE seminar course where they examine their interests and talents and see where those align with possible careers. They can attend career fairs and hear from guest speakers about different professions. By the end of the year, the freshmen students will choose which career academy track they want to pursue.
“Our goal is to set up career academies that meet the workforce demands of Alaska,” she says. Chaput notes that the district is still working on what career tracks will be available and how those will be divided among schools.
We will look at that at our community convenings and make those decisions as a community,” she says.
ASD was awarded a $15 million US Department of Education grant. Aimed at fostering diverse schools, which Johnson says will be used to enact the career academy transformation.
“It gives us the boost we need, along with partnerships from the community, to do this huge transformation within our district,” Johnson says.
Devon Roberts, assistant director of career and technical education for ASD, says in the long run, those partnerships might take the form of guest speakers in classrooms, job shadowing, worksite tours, mentorship programs, and more.
“The idea is that the students are developing skills and preparing for careers, not just exploring or becoming aware of them,” he says.