First, let me say congratulations to the Renaissance Charter High School for Innovation (Innovation), an independent charter school in East Harlem, NY. In November, Innovation’s Culinary Arts Program (CARTS) was approved by the New York State Education Department to become the first charter school in New York City to achieve Career and Technical Education (CTE). I’ve worked with Innovation for nearly a decade, and I could not be prouder of the Innovation team and this incredible accomplishment. Innovation is a great example of how independent charter schools are helping students—and especially at-risk students—succeed in careers and non-traditional educational paths.
CARTS is part of Innovation’s comprehensive experiential learning and CTE strategy that also includes its Software Engineering Program (i.e. Innovation is the only charter school admitted into NYC’s groundbreaking Software Education Pilot). Students in CARTS learn under the direction of professional chef Geraldo Vega and receive hands-on learning experiences, including internships in restaurants and food service companies. Its young “Chefs-in-Training have had incredible learning opportunities, including working with celebrity chef and winner of Food Network’s Chopped Maria Petridis CARTS students graduate with a CDOS and CTE endorsement in Culinary Arts and are qualified to work in a variety of roles in the restaurant and food service industries.
Innovation’s CTE programs are among the many independent charter schools across the country that are meaningfully engaged in CTE. For instance, in a CTE Charter Roundtable held by Opportunity America in 2017, participants and panelists included more than a dozen representatives of independent charter schools with CTE programs or focuses from California, Washington DC, Georgia, Rhode Island, New Mexico and New York. In their discussions, they expressed the key advantages that independent charter schools have in implementing effective CTE programs including:
- Flexibility—Independent charter schools, while held to rigorous accountability standards, have a degree of flexibility in programming and operations that is greater than that of traditional school districts and network-based charter schools. One independent charter school participant confirmed this saying “Our biggest strength as a CTE charter is our flexibility,” while another stated “We have more flexibility for our teachers to plan alongside industry experts.”
- Adaptability—Independent charter schools are uniquely positioned to be “learning organizations” that can react quickly to data about what is working and what is not and to “change course” as needed to improve. Unlike traditional school districts and network-based charter schools, independent charter schools can adapt its programming without having to overcome layers of administrative or corporate bureaucracy. In CTE programs, where new best practices and potential landmines are being discovered every day, this adaptability is a major strength.
- Connections with the Community—Independent charter schools typically have strong connections with parents, activists, faith-based leaders, elected officials and businesspersons in their respective communities. These connections are invaluable when establishing programming and internships/mentorships in and community support for CTE initiatives.
I am encouraged that the work being done by these independent charter schools to create effective CTE programs is aligned with the goals and objectives of the incoming Biden/Harris administration. In his campaign platform, President-elect Biden committed to “guaranteeing every American the skills and education they need to get ahead” by expanding and improving CTE opportunities. The President-elect expressed his belief that “students who participate in high-quality career and technical education are more likely to graduate, earn industry credentials, enroll in college, and have higher rates of employment and higher earnings.” He also promised to support CTE by investing in partnerships between high schools, community colleges and employers. Through these partnerships, he said, students will have opportunities to earn industry credentials at the time of high school graduation that will lead to good-paying careers.
We are experiencing an amazing shift in American history, especially as it relates to education. As the education policy of the Biden/Harris administration transitions from the “idea stage” of the campaign to the “reality stage” of governing, independent charter schools can play a significant role in expanding and improving CTE programs across the country. To my friends and colleagues at independent charter schools, let’s continue to claim our voice in the national discussion about where K-12 education goes from here.