Chancellor Joel Klein announced the creation of four demonstration schools today that are designed to rethink how the city teaches vocational skills.
At a time when traditional industries are shuttering the production plants that schools like Automotive High School and Aviation High School cater to, the city is reevaluating how to make its high school graduates marketable.
Selected from a pool of 10 proposals, the four schools are experimenting with new time structures, course offerings, and partnerships with other organizations. Each one is sharing space with a larger public school and serving between 75 and 125 students.
At a press conference at George Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School, Klein said he hoped more people would think up proposals for new school models.
“I hope we can expand this model,” he said. “It’s one that I urge people to watch.”
Though the city’s initial goal was to have five such schools up and running by September of this year, the fifth school — a charter school proposed by the Urban Health Plan that would focus on health — is awaiting approval.
“These places are meant to feel different, work different, and be different,” said Gregg Betheil, who heads the city’s Career and Technical Education Office of Portfolio Development.
The City Polytechnic Academy of Engineering and Technology, known as City Poly, is New York’s first school where students can graduate in five years with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree in one of many fields like computer engineering or advertising design . Partnering with the New York City College of Technology, it will run on a trimester schedule which is designed so that students progress through a high school curriculum more quickly.
Students at another demonstration school, the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers, will focus on training students for what are commonly called “green jobs” in renewable energy and design. But unlike CTE schools that group students by grade level, at Urban Assembly students will be able to move from lab to lab at their own pace.
Betheil calls this system a “competency schedule.”
The largest of the four schools, Grace Dodge Career and Technical High School, was chosen as the site of a demonstration school in part because of its size and history. Already a CTE high school that offers students four different specializations, the city views it as a potential model for how to improve existing vocational schools.
The flashiest of the four schools, and the most successful at attracting attention, is Quest to Learn, or the so-called game school. A 6-12 school, its lessons are structured like games and its students will regularly use social networking websites, blogs, and computer games as part of their curriculum.
Betheil said that because of the citywide hiring freeze, the new schools had been forced to hire within the system more than they’d initially planned to.
“We’ve told these schools that they’re going to work within the means that other schools have,” he said. “If we built a set of schools that we lavished resources on, lavished different teachers on, different facilities, everybody would look at it and say yeah, if I had all those resources I could do that too.”