Great schools are built by school leaders who bring parent and student voices to the forefront of every decision, who engage their communities as thoughtfully as they plan field trips. As a theatre teacher and parent at the Advanced Learning Academy, I know this recipe well. I am fortunate enough to work at a great school, and I have a keen eye for spotting others.

From the moment that CAST Tech began sharing a campus with us, I could see that the school is supported by an energized community of parents, teachers, faculty and students – just like us. I realized, too, that we share many of the same principles, inspiring students by igniting their curiosity and working through project-based learning. The Centers for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) is a network of schools that were founded by Charles Butt and H-E-B in partnership with area industries, higher education, and community partners. Their mission is simple but ambitious: to reinvent schooling to maximize options for students while preparing them for the jobs of the future. The CAST network currently operates two high schools, CAST Tech and CAST STEM. A third high school, CAST Med, will open in August 2019 at Brooks.

As our school leaders began collaborating and seeing the benefits of a partnership between ALA and CAST Tech, ALA Principal Kathy Bieser began reaching out to parents and teachers for input and feedback on what a partnership could look like. After a positive reception and support from teachers and parents, she worked with the CAST School Network to submit a formal proposal to the San Antonio Independent School District. The school board unanimously approved it on Monday, and I couldn’t be more excited. I am grateful for Bieser’s leadership, because joining the CAST network will help us leverage additional resources and flexibility, without having to change what makes ALA a unique and rewarding school.

There are many reasons I chose to teach at ALA, and even more reasons why I believe ALA is a great fit for my son. He, like many of our students, loves to make things: art, animatronics, books, sculptures, and simple machines. And we both love to build, to figure out how to make an idea, or a concept in a play, come to life. We enjoy a challenge and are passionate about the things we want to learn.

It’s the reason why ALA was such an attractive option for both of us: the school, which is located in the heart of downtown, offers a flexible learning environment, project-based learning, an opportunity for teacher innovation and a partnership with Trinity University that is helping us bring best practices to the classroom every day. My son can’t wait to experience an internship, and we love the expeditionary focus we get at the school: the real world at our door. On Wednesday mornings, my son and his art class walk to the Southwest School of Art to learn pottery.

Both CAST Tech and ALA work to inspire students by igniting this kind of energy. I’ve thought about what would happen if we came together, if we joined educational forces and created even better opportunities for our students. All of us believe in hands-on learning and relevant, engaging projects. Our school cultures are similar. We believe in our students and want them to have a voice in their learning as they become their own advocates. And, as faculty, we are inspired by learning from one another.

By initiating this partnership, we can share best practices and swap ideas. Creativity goes hand-in-hand with this kind of innovation. We already work together to figure out what our students need to be successful, and this is where the collective and collegial mind is most helpful

To succeed in the world, our students will need to be innovators. They will need to adapt to shifting workforce demands and have a variety of skills. It only makes sense that our public schools do the same. To build global competence and ensure sustainability, we have to evolve with shifting student needs. Joining with the CAST Network will give ALA the opportunity to grow community partnerships, especially with nonprofit organizations and industry leaders in our city. We would not lose our invaluable connection to Trinity University. Instead, we would all join hands to face the task at hand: preparing our learners for an unpredictable, but exciting future.

When our students graduate from ALA, I know they will have a strong foundation to face a challenging world. A partnership with CAST Schools is just going to strengthen that foundation, while allowing ALA to continue to be the school that fits the needs of so many parents and students.

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Amy Stengel

Amy Stengel is a theatre and creative writing teacher in the San Antonio Independent School District. She loves to write and read, be outside, to make costumes and sets, act, and direct plays with students....