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Computer science pathway hopes to implement engineering courses

Following a national trend to expand high school STEM curricula, the Paly Career Technical Education department and administration are in the early stages of proposing new engineering courses for next school year.

CTE Instructional Lead Deanna Chute, who is involved in the discussion to potentially offer these new engineering courses, is part of a committee structure through the National Academy Foundation, a network of education, business and community leaders who work together to ensure high school students are college, career and future-ready.

“The big picture is a more substantive program, linking to internships and certifications, to make you certified or hireable in some way for real experience,” Chute said. “That’s what NAF is known for.”

Superintendent Don Austin said the partnership with NAF began after the district decided to develop CTE programs at Paly and Gunn high schools.

“Last spring, site leadership at the high schools identified top areas of needs in regards to pathway development,” Austin said. “The selection of the pathway was decided based on students’ interests, parent communications, site leadership consultation and teacher input. The district is supporting site leadership in the expansion of the Paly Engineering pathway and the creation of a business pathway at Gunn.”

However, the approval of any possible proposal will face challenges.

“We are going through our due diligence process right now to explore what, if anything, will happen next year,” Chute said. “Two markers of importance are if a new course is going to be approved by the board, we’d need to know that before Thanksgiving this year … The other thing to consider is that the course guide is published before we break for Winter Break. Once January comes, they’re already at middle schools registering for classes.”

NAF’s role is facilitating what is known as the “Year of Planning” process, according to Austin.

“YOP allows school sites to formalize their pathway development as well as build in the necessary work-based learning experiences to gain certification,” Austin said.

Principal Adam Paulson said Paly is financially prepared for the potential new courses.

“It will not require any extra funding,” Paulson said. “Building a new pathway will take some time, and in the beginning, we can utilize the teachers we have. We may need to bring more teachers on depending on the size and scope of the pathway, but we will not know this information until we develop and offer some initial classes.”

While Paly and District leaders seem enthusiastic about the potential new courses, senior Jordan Lee, who took two years of computer science at Paly, said developing an engineering pathway is more complicated than it may appear.

“It’s such a mixed bag, in that there are a lot of pros and cons to weigh,” Lee said. “I’m not going to say no to increasing the size of the engineering department. It’s definitely a smart move by the administration. Engineering is a really lucrative industry, and in an area such as ours, it’s really good for the school to pump out engineering-focused students.”

However, Lee said the efforts aimed at the pathway may divert attention from other pressing issues.

“Personally, I think it’s ridiculous that schools within the same state have different curriculums and offer different classes,” Lee said. “This is inequality of opportunity. Schools get most of their funding from local funding, which is another word for property taxes. Basically, if you’re wealthy you get a better funded education provided by the government than someone poorer. It perpetuates the system of rich getting richer.”

Instead, Lee said he believes Paly should focus on improving the many programs that already exist. Although the pathway would only be for Paly, Chute said her efforts require close collaboration with administration and the district.

“I want to say that obviously nothing happens without admin support,” Chute said. “So I’m constantly meeting with Dr. Keating weekly about this, and I’m very connected to the district. Dr. Choe is my boss for the past four years. She’s in charge from the district end, she’s cultivated this partnership with NAF, and she’s working with Gunn.”

Austin remains optimistic about the efforts to implement new engineering courses.

Austin said, “I am excited about the potential of the proposed pathways. Time will tell if they resonate with our students and add value to our school sites.”

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