KILGORE, TEXAS—Nearly 100 representatives from East Texas school districts, charter schools, community colleges, workforce organizations, and businesses attended the Business and Education Partnership Forum held at the Region 7 Education Service Center (ESC) on Thursday to discuss collaborative efforts in ensuring successful implementation of the new House Bill 5 (HB 5) graduation requirements.
HB 5, which was passed in the 83rd Texas legislative session, offers high school students more flexible graduation pathways, a greater focus in Career & Technical Education (CTE) courses, changes to state assessments, and opportunities for community and student engagement.
Hudson ISD Superintendent Mary Ann Whiteker, who was one of several presenters at the forum, provided the group with an overview of HB 5 and the importance of involving the business and workforce development perspectives in the educational process.
“Somewhere along the way in education, we lost sight of what the end product should be, and HB 5 is helping us get back on track,” Whiteker said. “Through HB 5, we have the flexibility to work with our communities to determine what they value as quality in their schools. We need to be working together for all students.”
The flexibility HB 5 provides for students largely comes in the way of five endorsements, or graduation pathways, which include STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), Business and Industry, Public Services, Arts and Humanities, and Multidisciplinary. Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, students entering the ninth grade will be required to indicate in writing which of the five endorsements the student intends to earn, which leads to the strong need for collaboration among schools, higher education institutions, businesses and the workforce.
“Data collected from our colleges and business leaders in Angelina County show that students lack skills they need to be successful both in college and in the workforce,” said Whiteker. “HB 5 is a window of opportunity for our students, but educators cannot do this alone. We have to create what works for all of us—schools, workforce, businesses, higher education, and most of all, our students.”
Robin Painovich, Career and Technology Association of Texas (CTAT) Executive Director, agreed with Whiteker during her presentation at the forum.
“There are so many more opportunities with HB 5, and now the real work begins,” she said. “We are moving away from one-size-fits-all to multiple pathways because one-size-fits-all doesn’t work for our employers. Our employers are specialized and need workers with specific skills and knowledge.”
Prior to HB 5, CTE courses weren’t required for graduation, and now students are required to obtain coherent sequence courses for four or more credits in CTE to graduate with the STEM, Business and Industry or Public Services endorsement.
Painovich encouraged educators to study and use labor market information available through the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) to drive the CTE programs within their counties and region.
“Skills trump titles,” Painovich said in reference to resumes being reviewed by industry employers. “Employers have resume readers that pick up key words from skills and match them to available job opportunities. Schools can use the labor market information from their region as the foundation for their CTE programs so that the skills employers are looking for are present on a graduate’s resume. Additionally, defined skill sets are essential for delivering curriculum in units smaller than a semester.”
Although districts are able to define the coherent sequence courses and the advanced courses within an endorsement, which at least one advanced CTE course is required for the STEM, Business and Industry and Public Services endorsements, Painovich said it will be challenging for districts to develop local courses with higher education institutions.
“Local courses are being developed for students with a variety of skill sets and aptitude levels, so it will be difficult to create courses that apply to these students of varying capabilities,” she said. “Shared service arrangements among districts and the ability to earn credits from colleges outside of the district’s service area will help provide more opportunities, which is why businesses and educators need to work together.”
Several area businesses such as Eastman Chemical Company in Longview have already established partnerships with schools and districts. Eastman’s Manager of TXO Learning Services, Pete Lemothe, also presented at the forum and said that Eastman has partnerships with about 15 high schools in the area.
“We want to home grow our own workforce, and at Eastman, we believe we have enough potential in East Texas for a viable workforce,” said Lemothe. “We want to create awareness about our industry, our company and our job opportunities as early as possible, and partnering with districts and schools is helping us do that.”
As part of the company’s partnership with the high schools, Eastman awards a full one-year college scholarship to one senior from each partnering high school each year. Students are required to apply for the scholarship, and Lemothe said the high school partnership teams make a big deal out of the application process.
“Students have to apply and include their resume, so our high school partnership teams will work with them on resume writing,” he said. “Scholarship applicants are also interviewed as part of the application process, so our teams will also work with students on interviewing skills. We try to funnel the students that work with us into colleges in our area who then have the opportunity to come back and work for Eastman as college students and even full-time once they complete their studies.”
Lemothe said Eastman is willing to provide resources to help educate students about career opportunities and even have educators tour the company site to learn more about Eastman and about viable jobs in manufacturing.
“We will do what we can to help make HB 5 work and create a viable workforce in East Texas that wants to stay in East Texas,” said Lemothe.
Since the adoption of the bill, Region 7 ESC staff has been collaborating with the 96 districts and 10 charter schools in the Region 7 area, as well as with area college, business and workforce development representatives, to offer workshops and informational sessions on the changes schools, families and communities will face as a result of HB 5.
Adrian Knight, Region 7 ESC Federal Programs Specialist, has been coordinating the forum since last fall with a committee consisting of representatives from the Kilgore Economic Development Corporation, the Longview Economic Development Corporation, the Tyler Business and Education Council, the Workforce Solutions East Texas and other workforce agency contacts.
“We realized that schools need help from businesses and businesses want to help schools, but schools don’t know how to ask for help and businesses don’t know how to help,” Knight said. “So we wanted to get the conversation started by holding this forum, and we think it is a great start for our schools and communities. The committee representatives offered some great perspective on how to put this event on and who the presenters should be, and we are very appreciative for their work on this. We are also thankful to both the Kilgore and Longview Economic Development Corporations for providing lunch for our guests.”
After the presentations and lunch, forum attendees had the opportunity to discuss specific business and industry employment needs that addressed training requirements, workforce skillset requirements, hands-on skills that would benefit students in preparing for the workforce, workforce academic learning standards, work-linked learning opportunities that could be offered to students and/or staff, and partnership opportunities. Knight said he and the committee are looking forward to reviewing the information provided by the attendees.
“Hopefully we will get more information about what types of skills are needed and whether or not we need to formulate trainings for secondary teachers to teach those skills and other needs that colleges and industries are expressing are needed from students,” he said. “We are also going to look at what other collaborative opportunities we need to provide for educators and the community.”
Along with the forum presenters, Knight said he would encourage businesses to reach out to schools and to get involved and vice versa for schools.
“This is about providing more opportunities for more kids,” he said. “It’s about opening up doors for students to have more options after they leave high school, and schools, businesses, higher education and the workforce alike need to be engaged in the process.”
For more detailed information about HB 5, additional resources, and Whiteker and Painovich’s presentations from Thursday’s forum, visit www.esc7.net and click on the House Bill 5 Resources link located on the right side of the page. Information about other HB 5 workshops can also be found by clicking on the Workshops link at the top of the page.
About Region 7 Education Service Center
Region 7 ESC is committed to student success by providing quality programs and services that meet or exceed customer expectations. One of 20 regional education service centers statewide, Region 7 ESC participates in the planning development, coordination, implementation and evaluation of innovative educational programs for 96 school districts and 10 charter schools in the counties of Anderson, Angelina, Cherokee, Gregg, Harrison, Henderson, Nacogdoches, Rains, Rusk, Sabine, San Augustine, Shelby, Smith, Panola, Upshur, Van Zandt and Wood.