As a school leader, my biggest reward is seeing students take hold of a project and blow my expectations out of the water.
In a previous job, my students had the opportunity to design a virtual reality simulation of a streetcar traveling through downtown San Antonio. Local leadership wanted voters to see what it would be like to travel on a streetcar. My students and their instructor embraced this project in ways I never imagined. There were late evening and weekend work sessions and many pizzas delivered to sustain the energetic team. The students couldn’t wait for San Antonio leaders to view their work so that it could be used for a real purpose. This experience shaped my perception of what students can achieve when they feel their work is meaningful.
When I found out that H-E-B and other industry leaders were developing CAST Tech, San Antonio’s first high-tech high school, I leaped at the opportunity to serve as its first principal.
CAST Tech will give students real world projects to tackle and surround them with the support and guidance they need to succeed. The new school will be an open enrollment charter, attracting a wide array of students from across the city who are interested in tech and want a radically different high school experience. With close industry ties and innovative learning models, CAST Tech will be unlike anything that’s been tried in San Antonio.
Students are often capable of more than we expect from them and are most likely to rise to their potential when learning feels relevant.
It’s hard to imagine what could be more relevant than preparing youth for high-paying jobs in coding, gaming, software development, cybersecurity, financial analysis, or business analytics, to name just a few of the jobs San Antonio has a hard time filling.
H-E-B and Tech Bloc led the charge in establishing CAST Tech, which was made possible by a lead gift of $2.6 million from Charles Butt and an additional $1 million from H-E-B. Graham Weston’s 80/20 Foundation has contributed a $600,000 challenge grant to kick-start a fundraising campaign within the tech sector. Other collaborators have lined up quickly, including USAA, Rackspace, Frost Bank, Firstmark Credit Union, University Health System, Geekdom, and Codeup. The various partners will inform the CAST Tech coursework and support experiential learning opportunities such as hands-on job shadowing, summer jobs, and interviews for graduates.
CAST Tech is the first in a series of career-themed high schools focused on meeting labor and workforce needs in San Antonio. An in-district charter within the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD), the school will be housed in two beautiful buildings on the campus of Fox Tech in the heart of the city’s emerging downtown tech district.
Architects from H-E-B are leading an overhaul of the 1950s warehouse-style buildings to create modern, tech-friendly learning spaces inspired by places like Geekdom. We have begun accepting applications for our first class of 150 9th graders this week; 50% will come from SAISD and 50% from outside the district.
CAST Tech will follow an instructional model unlike any other: students will learn through a mix of project-based learning, where industry partners bring them real problems to solve, work-based learning, where they can apply their skills in actual work settings, and blended learning that uses technology to allow them to customize learning to meet their individual needs.
We know that high school students today will need more than a high school degree to make them employable. All CAST Tech students will be offered a minimum of 30 college credits, with highly motivated students earning industry-recognized certificates and an associate degree through our partnerships with San Antonio College (SAC) and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).
The UTSA partnership extends to professional development: CAST Tech will serve as a laboratory to prepare teachers and school leaders using a model that looks much more like an apprenticeship than a traditional teacher education program. Embedded professors and staff will use CAST Tech facilities and staff to train future teachers and administrators in the CAST Tech environment.
In this specially designed small learning environment, students will get to know their instructors well and will be among other students with similar interests.
I have seen firsthand how students blossom in a small, focused environment. At a previous school, a student named Rani initially saw her future in performance. After taking a required engineering class, she realized that she had a knack for the subject and could hold her own academically. She went on to become an engineer. When CAST Tech opens its doors this fall, hundreds of stories just like this will begin to take shape.
Though we are proud of the experience we are crafting for students at CAST Tech, the big promise lies in what happens after students walk out of our doors. Our industry partners have committed to offering job interviews to all CAST Tech graduates. This guarantees that when they grab that diploma, they will have a job interview waiting and a résumé filled with work-related experience and relationships they’ve built with companies in high-demand fields.
Imagine the Class of 2021 earning $45,000-60,000 straight out of high school as they put themselves through college, while continuing to build their work experiences. Our 2017-18 pioneer class will help set the stage for this exciting journey. I look forward to working alongside the CAST Tech team to build an educational program that will reinvent the way we view high school and future career preparation.