‘Accountability’ designation boosts career high school

November 19, 2018

When seniors at the Dr. Kirk Lewis Career and Technical High School in Pasadena ISD receive diplomas in the spring, something will be different.

This time, instead of listing the name of one of the district’s five traditional high schools, the diplomas will bear the name of the Lewis campus, Principal Steven Fleming said.

Trustees unanimously voted Sept. 25 to recognize that campus as a “school of accountability,” which will help students gain easier acceptance to college and universities and qualify for scholarships, Fleming said. The status will remove a confusing paper trail that might hamper job searches, Fleming said.

The achievement was something administrators had intended for the school since it opened in 2014. The school, 1348 Genoa Red Bluff Road, is an application-based school of choice for students in grades 9-12 that focuses on career readiness. Enrollment is 1,400.

Fleming said before the change, students faced bureaucratic obstacles to advancing after high school.

“A student would apply to a college or university,” he said of a Lewis graduate who was zoned to Pasadena High School but did not attend there. “When that college or university received the transcript, it would say ‘Pasadena High School,’ but show all course work completed at CTHS and show a diploma awarded by Pasadena High School. It was very confusing to colleges, universities and employers.”

All state, federal and private test scores as well as official transcripts were issued by the campus to which students were zoned, not by the Lewis center.

Fleming said the staff at CTHS would routinely write letters on behalf students to colleges or employers, which was a time-consuming challenge.

Sometimes students wouldn’t even be eligible to apply for scholarships because of documentation discrepancies, he said.

With the change, students at the technical school will now be recognized for academic achievements such as class ranking, including salutatorian and valedictorian awards, which can help college admittance.

Previously, students at CTHS were ranked based on grade-point averages against students at home campuses they didn’t actually attend, such as the 4,000-student Dobie High School, Fleming said.

“It’s a much more level playing field,” he said of the new status’s effect on the technical high school’s students. “It just helps level up the opportunities for all kids.”

The Lewis school is the only campus in Pasadena ISD that provides every student the opportunity to obtain technical and skilled trades certifications upon — or even before — graduation, said Tanya Hagar, executive director of career and technical education. While all Pasadena ISD high schools offer some technical or career-oriented classes, the Lewis school provides more career path options for students.

“There are 20 different pathways at the Career and Technical High School,” she said. “All of them lead to one certification; many of them lead to multiple certifications.”

Programs at the campus include: Maritime and port operations, automotive collision repair, automotive technology, welding, construction technology, heating, ventilation and air conditioning/electrical technology, dental assistant, pharmacy technician, emergency medical technician, veterinary assistant, cosmetology, criminal justice and child guidance.

Students take college courses through a partnership with San Jacinto Community College during their junior and senior years and graduate with a welding certification from San Jac, Hagar said.

“Within a couple years of high school, they’re making six figures,” she said.

But students aiming for a four-year degree can thrive at the school, too, Fleming said.

“We make sure that every student here is college-, career- or military-ready,” Fleming said.

All Pasadena ISD students can apply to attend the Lewis center once they enter the eighth, ninth or 10th grade, but space is limited and competitive and some students may be denied, he said.

He said the school received approximately 800 to 1,000 applications for the freshman class last year for only 400 spots and that the number of applications have only increased year over year.

Hagar said that during the 2017-18 school year, 735 certifications were earned with a graduating class that numbered in the 300s. Some of those certifications were earned by sophomore and junior students before they reached their senior year, she said.

Students often start working in jobs or internships while in school within their career focus to gain experience, make contacts and earn more than entry-level jobs provide, she said.

For example, pharmacy technician students can begin working in pharmacies with the certification earned in high school, allowing them to attend college classes and earn money.

Students still receive core instruction in mathematics, English and language arts, science and social studies including some elective courses and take advance placement course or dual-credit courses applicable to colleges.

The application period for for the incoming freshman Class of 2023 ends Jan. 11.

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