The entrance to Fox Tech High School. Photo by Scott Ball.
San Antonio Independent School District, Methodist Hospital, and San Antonio College could partner to create a registered nurse track at Fox Tech High School. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

San Antonio Independent School District is planning to start a new program by fall 2020 that would graduate high-school students as certified registered nurses, or RNs. This would help to satisfy a steady health care industry need for nurses and a desire for students to graduate with the skills and training to immediately enter high-wage careers, a district official said.

RN is in one of those top high demand, high-wage roles out there, one of the biggest-demanded roles in the next 10 years, so we are looking at using this to create a pathway that could be duplicated across the state,” said Johnny Vahalik, SAISD’s senior executive director of career and technical education.

The proposed program, a P-TECH model, would be a school-within-a-school at Fox Tech High School. It would be the second P-TECH model implemented in SAISD. The first, focusing on cybersecurity at Sam Houston High School, will open in fall 2019.

The P-TECH model is a national, industry-specific educational concept that State lawmakers approved for use in Texas schools in 2017.  The model gives students between four and six years to earn a high-school diploma, associate degree, and industry certifications.

Fox Tech’s proposed model would include a partnership involving SAISD, Metropolitan Methodist Hospital, and San Antonio College. Details of the collaboration are still largely unknown, and the partners plan to take the next year to work out what the eventual model will look like.

Each partner emphasized that the idea would help fill an important need in the health care industry.

“We have nine hospitals in our system and employ throughout our system probably close to 10,000 employees. Close to half of those are nurses,” Metropolitan Methodist Hospital CEO Greg Seiler said. “We need a lot of nurses and we are always looking to hire.”

When SAISD first approached the Alamo Colleges District about what P-TECH models would interest them for future partnerships, nursing was at the top of the list, said Vernell Walker, San Antonio College’s dean of professional and technical education. Engineering was a close second and is still being discussed between the two districts.

The nursing program could open with a maximum of 150 students per class, Vahalik said, but that number could likely change over the planning year because of challenges presented by the rigor of the program. The program is also likely to open with a smaller class of students and then could expand over time, he said.

Vahalik believes SAISD would be the first district in Texas to start a P-TECH model for nursing. Unique challenges have started to crop up, including some age restrictions that limit when a student can start clinical rotations. If a student can’t perform hospital work until he or she is 18, that could delay some classes.

Those are some of the details that will be worked out over the next year, Vahalik and Walker said. Partners plan to visit other P-TECH models to get some insight on best practices.

SAISD is also looking into other models it could implement. Each would focus on a high-wage career, Vahalik said.

“We can’t mess around, and I’m going to get myself in trouble, but I love fashion design. But we can’t be doing fashion design when we have a [high] poverty rate” in the district, Vahalik said. “We have to focus on careers that are going to get kids a job that provide a living wage and grow a career.”

He added that SAISD is exploring any programs that focus on careers included on the Workforce Solutions Alamo Board’s targeted and demand occupations list. The 2017 list focuses on jobs in business and finance, aerospace and advanced manufacturing, health care and biosciences, information technology, and construction.

SAISD is looking at creating a program in construction management and technology with St. Philip’s College and the University of Texas at San Antonio, a program that could prepare teachers at Brackenridge High School, and a potential engineering program.

“TEA just came out with this P-TECH model,” Vahalik said. “I do see us moving a little faster in the next couple of years rolling stuff out. [As] we get more comfortable with the model we can move faster.”

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.