Wednesday, 16 November 2016

New models and new structures delivering new opportunities through partnerships - P Tech High

Pathways in Technology Early College High School  provides new opportunity for career and personal success to a generation of New York youth who, in many instances, are first generation graduates. The potential that is being unlocked through the P Tech model is changing the trajectory for families - many of the P-Tech graduates are the first to graduate secondary school and first to obtain a college degree ever in some families; the social benefits, the generational benefits and the societal befits are significant in the truest sense.

My walk to P Tech High took me approximately one and a half hours from where I was staying near Prospect Park. My walk took me predominantly along Eastern Parkway past the Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn Museum and the Brooklyn Public Library - all impressive buildings and precincts.

Along the Eastern Parkway I passed through a predominantly Jewish sector dominated by practicing Jewish people and Jewish buildings. I emphasise this because I looked into the practice of dressing that so many Jewish people engage in - all looking the same - it may surprise you (as it impacted me) to read:

Their statements about their dress identify that it is precisely because they dress the same that they can truly be individuals. Being an individual means having something unique about you that no one else has. According to the predominant Western paradigm, to be original one needs a weird shirt, cool shoes and an unusual haircut. The more unusual, the more an individual stands out from the crowd. It poses the question: is that really what makes a person different from everyone else? Is that all someone can do to be unique -- put on this outfit or that? Couldn't just anyone look the same?

In Jewish tradition, what makes an individual is not the clothing, but the character. When you are a part of a community of people that all dress the same, there is only one way to stand out: you have to be original, not your clothing. The people around you notice you for your character, the way you treat people, your manner of speech. You can't hide behind a superficial individuality based on hairstyle and fashion -- you have to be a real individual.
- interesting don't you think?

Another thing that impacted me on my walking was a recollection of a reflection I always recall hearing on the radio some time back (though I am unable to attribute it because I can't remember the speaker). Any way, this speaker said this (paraphrased):

'We all knew when we were growing up where that invisible line was where our neighbourhood stopped and someone else's started - where familiarity and safety were replaced by uncertainty and vulnerability'

I was reminded of this as I left the Eastern Parkway and headed into the suburb toward P-Tech High - I was reminded of the passage above not because of the invisible line however, but because of the stark change that occurred in the buildings, the street scapes and the people almost immediately once I moved off the main thorough fare. Things were far more degraded (less well maintained and manicured), the people were all african american, the street scape was different - things felt 'different'.

P-TECH is located at the Paul Robeson Educational Campus, in the Crown Heights neighbourhood of Brooklyn. The Paul Robeson school had been closed some time back due to underperformance and P-Tech has brought new life to that campus and new hope to that community. 

P- Tech is a partnership between New York City Department of Education, New York City College of Technology, The City University of New York and IBM. The steering committee for the school is made up of representatives from the Department of Education, NYC University and IBM - their focus now, 6 years since establishment is to stay true to the things that brought them together and establish the school - the values, the purposes, the directions, the operations.

Under the normal model of education prior to the establishment of P-Tech, 50% of high school graduates needed remediation in order to successfully transition to university. The P-Tech model successfully addresses this issue.

P-Tech incorporates secondary education, post secondary education and industry experience into one seamless educational opportunity for its students.

Students commence at P-Tech in Year 9 and conclude 6 years later having obtained both a high school diploma and a college undergraduate degree.

Every student at the school is assigned a learning mentor provided by IBM. Every student at the school (at the appropriate time in the education program) is given an internship at IBM and all those that graduate with a college degree are first in line for employment with IBM (if the student chooses).

This opportunity for employment not only motivates the students but also, according to Principal Davis, motivates the 'system' also.

The partnership between the state, the education institutions and the corporate partner are the building blocks of the success of the P-Tech model. Significantly and importantly IBM are not a philanthropic partner - to be so would limit the capacity for the model to be replicated. Rather it is the 'in kind' investment from IBM that improves the richness of the learning experience for the students as well as the motivation in the system.

Its important for the principal to understand that each of the partners in the P-Tech model has their own definition of success. The principal needs to understand what these definitions are and a critical element of the principal's role is to create outcomes that satisfy each partners success definition.

The student population at the school comprises 70% free admission or reduced fee intake, 90% black/hispanic, 75% male.

Whilst a non-selective entry school, priority is given to those that demonstrate desire and interest. There is a strong emphasis on STEM with a particular emphasis on electro mechanical engineering. Students can fast track through the program if they are capable and desire to.

Questions that shaped the structure of the operations and the learning approach at P-Tech included:

  • How can we use time most effectively for our students?
  • How can we engage with human capital differently?
  • how can we tap the talent pool of those not graduating currently?
There are 581 students enrolled at P-Tech at the time of my visit.

P-Tech Brooklyn was the first P-Tech to be established in the US. There are now, 6 years later, 60 P-Techs across 6 US States.

The Australian Government has piloted the P-Tech model in Australia with 2 sites (one each) in Geelong and Ballarat and a further 12 sites to be established under its Pathways in Technology Pilot.

Advice from Principal Davis in regards to innovation is not to self correct along they way - this slows innovation; rather, get to the end and look back and make amendments to the next innovation cycle based on this reflection. To me this has strong alignment to the notions of continuous improvement, improvement science, Total Quality Management, Kaizen and similar philosophies espoused by many leaders I encountered on my travels. (More on that later I think).

As a (all but) final anecdote, as I was walking to P-Tech I noticed a significant number of trucks parked near the Brooklyn Museum - it wasn't clear what they were involved in as I walked early in the morning. On my return leg, things became clearer. They were filming a TV series and I discovered it was a Netflix original 'Master of none'. I was amazed at the logistics that went into the filming - film trucks, food trucks, lighting trucks, scaffolding trucks, trucks and more trucks - all for one episode of one series. Not something we in Canberra (let alone Australia) have a lot of exposure to - a whole new industry it would seem?

Lastly, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the staff at P-Tech - all of them were committed to their profession, to their students and to P-Tech itself. All of them spoke with such loyalty and admiration for their leader Principal Davis (this characteristic was so often observable in so many of the contexts that I visited - loyalty, belief in and admiration for the leader of the school). Thanks especially to Mr Smith (Parent Liaison at P-Tech) who took considerable time to provide me with a tour of the school and to introduce me to so many wonderful staff and students at this truly innovative and impactful school.

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