One month after the Centers for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) Tech High School opened its doors to its inaugural class, plans for CAST STEM and a third CAST high school have emerged.

CAST schools are industry-driven partnerships between school districts and private-sector companies to invest in a more highly qualified local workforce.

CAST STEM, operated by Southwest Independent School District on the campus of Palo Alto College, will offer pathways in advanced manufacturing, engineering, energy and power, and global logistics. A press conference scheduled for Tuesday will reveal the school’s new logo and slate of industry partners.

“Serving as champions for community access is part of the core values and mission of Palo Alto College,” Palo Alto President Mike Flores stated in a news release. “Along with our partners at Southwest ISD, we have created an opportunity with CAST STEM where students can earn a college-level education while still in high school that prepares them to fulfill future demands of San Antonio’s growing workforce.”

Industry partners are integral to the CAST model, which includes internships and mentoring, as well as hands-on experience with industry tools. Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, CPS Energy, H-E-B, HOLT CAT, Zachry Group, and other partners will offer opportunities for students to work directly with heavy machinery and equipment, robotics, and other advanced technologies. Meanwhile, students will be able to earn college credits through partnerships with Palo Alto and Texas A&M-San Antonio

“No matter what career students end up choosing, CAST STEM will give them a rare opportunity to explore real jobs and workplaces, make connections and relationships, and enter the workforce or college with confidence and credits under their belt,” The Holdsworth Center Executive Vice President Kate Rogers stated. Rogers has led the CAST initiative on behalf of H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt. “CAST is free for parents, but priceless for students as they gather skills and exposure that will prepare them for their career.”

Executive Vice President of the Holdsworth Center Kate Rogers.
Executive Vice President of the Holdsworth Center Kate Rogers speaks to stakeholders and media during the announcement of CAST STEM. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

By working with local school districts, H-E-B and Butt have spearheaded the CAST initiative with a total of $3.6 million to jumpstart school openings. Workforce development experts from the City of San Antonio, Bexar County, and Alamo Colleges have participated in the development of the schools as well. The City and County have also contributed $250,000 each to CAST Tech.

CAST STEM is on schedule to open with 200 ninth graders in the fall of 2018. The school will scale up with its first class. For the first two years of the program, students will be on the campus of Southwest Legacy High School. When students reach the third year, the program moves to Palo Alto, where classes will meet in the yet-to-be-built Welcome Center and Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence included in the 2017 Alamo Colleges District Bond.

CAST STEM will include four academies: global logistics, engineering, energy and power, and advanced manufacturing. Two of those tracks will utilize curriculum from Palo Alto’s current programs in advanced manufacturing, engineering, logistics and supply chain management, international business, and energy technology. 

Southwest ISD superintendent Lloyd Verstuyft announced Aja Gardner as the first principal of CAST STEM. Gardner has experience at almost every level of STEM education. She previously served as director of STEM/CTE and Advanced Academics in South San Antonio ISD, assistant principal in North East ISD, and as a science teacher at the John Jay Science and Engineering Academy.

CAST STEM Principal Aja Gardner.
Aja Gardner is the first principal of CAST STEM. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“She views STEM as a holistic approach to preparing 21st century learners to live and work in an ever-changing technical society,” Verstuyft stated.

Plans for a third CAST campus are less developed.

At the SAISD board meeting on Monday night, district trustees approved a long-term lease agreement with Brooks Development Authority for “Building 775,” located at 2601 Louis Bauer Dr.

The 20-year lease calls for SAISD to establish a medical career-themed high school at the facility, which district officials say will be a CAST school. SAISD may be able to purchase the facility after five years. During that time, the rent must stay at a rate that allows the school to focus on building the program and increasing enrollment.

SAISD would operate the campus at the Brooks facility. Two charter schools  – Brooks Academy of Science and Engineering and Compass Rose Academy – operate within the Southside development. The University of the Incarnate Word School of Osteopathic Medicine is also located on site, which could allow for partnership with the CAST high school.

“We’re in the very early stages of planning, but we’ll be looking at developing programs that are unique to what is currently offered to students in our city within the high-demand areas of medicine and bioscience,” SAISD spokesperson Leslie Price told the Rivard Report.

The district currently has two health professions magnet programs, one at Edison High School and one at Fox Tech High School. In those programs, students can choose from pathways in dental assisting, pharmacy technician, certified nursing assistant, phlebotomy, or EMT-Basic. 

Hopes for the new campuses are high in the wake of the grand opening of CAST Tech, located on the campus of Fox Tech in San Antonio ISD. That campus opened this fall, with 175 students in its first cohort. The SAISD Foundation continues to raise money to complete the school, with around $13 million of public and private support raised to date, and $2 million more to go to reach its goal.

Avatar photo

Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog,, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.