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VOL. 132 | NO. 159 | Friday, August 11, 2017

New Collierville High Signals Shift In Education

By Bill Dries

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A year from now, the $90 million Collierville High School will open for classes with an estimated 2,600 students.

Collierville Schools superintendent John Aitken is keenly aware that for many citizens the construction work is what they know about the school system entering its fourth school year.

“We have to do more than just build a new high school,” Aitken told a group of 250 Wednesday, Aug. 9, at a Collierville Chamber of Commerce general membership luncheon. “We have to offer more opportunities for all of our kids.”

The speech was as much outreach to business leaders to become involved as it was an update on the building. And the outreach reflects a shift in education, particularly in high schools.

“We’re almost becoming a post-secondary institution in some ways,” Collierville Schools superintendent John Aitken says of the changes coming with a new Collierville High School in a year’s time. Aitken spoke Wednesday, Aug. 9, at a luncheon meeting of the Collierville Chamber of Commerce. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

“We have to serve all students,” Aitken said. “We want every student that walks across the stage at Collierville High School graduation to already have … college credit either through AP (Advanced Placement) dual-enrollment classes and/or nationally recognized credentials, industry certification, badges that they can take to show they have the training. That’s where we are headed.”

And the school system is on its way with “blended learning” – the use of digital devices that allow students to do project-based learning together as well as individual learning at each student’s own pace.

Aitken and his staff are managing more than 8,000 devices now in the hands of students and probably “well over” 10,000 total in a year’s time, along with the network necessary to manage the iPads every student in grades 3-8 has now and the laptops every high schooler will have next school year.

“What’s the programming? What we can put in those spaces? How we are going to outfit those spaces?” Aitken said later of the questions being answered a year out from opening day.

“That’s where partners come in. If Carrier wants to partner with us and TCAT (Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology) … if they’ve got a particular machine that they might want their kids to be trained on, then we partner with them and put it in that manufacturing class,” he said. “It’s kind of daunting right now. … So pray for me.”

Meanwhile, Aitken says the transition for students is catching up to what they know already.

“What they know is this,” Aitken said holding out his iPhone. “They know technology. … You heard me say blended learning a lot in the presentation. That’s what those kids thrive with is that type of learning. A lot of these opportunities are sitting in front of computers for modular learning and then taking it into a shop or work experience and doing the hands-on piece of it.”

That, he said, is often translated with a jump in ACT scores, which have become a more important marker in gauging student growth by state and federal standards.

“We’ve got to meet kids with how they learn, and this is how they learn,” Aitken said.

His pitch to business leaders is that federal requirements in the new Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, as well as the state’s emphasis on workforce training and two free years of community college as a “last-dollar scholarship” are changing the nature of high schools, where there has been a longstanding and considerable gap between the high school experience and the college experience.

“That gap is going to decrease as we move forward. … We’re almost becoming a post-secondary institution in some ways,” Aitken said after the luncheon. “We’re having to offer more and more college credit and opportunities for those kids. It’s the right thing to do. But it does require planning and partnerships with higher education. It’s also mandated by ESSA. We’re going to be graded on the opportunity that we provide kids through AP, dual enrollment or industry certification, alignment with our TCATs and Southwest and Moore Tech – any of those two-year institutions.”

The high school not only will have a STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – emphasis. It already has an advanced manufacturing curriculum, and also will have a logistics curriculum that is still developing.

Aitken met with FedEx executives about that last month, on the same day that news broke of a cyberattack on the worldwide information systems of its TNT Express subsidiary.

Understandably, Aitken said those from FedEx put a greater emphasis on the need for cybersecurity as part of the logistics curriculum. But he said the curriculum would include IT skills and coding along with cybersecurity.

There is also an emphasis across the board on soft skills – basic workplace habits and etiquette. And Aitken said the school system is working on beefing up its fine arts offerings just as neighboring Germantown schools are.

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