learning to work

A sweeping plan to boost Indy’s economy will push high schools to prepare students for open jobs

PHOTO: Alan Petersime
Students learning about auto repair as a part of Arsenal Technical High School's career training program.

Former Indianapolis Deputy Mayor Jason Kloth today announced a new $7 million effort aimed at strengthening the connection among K-12 schools, colleges, training programs and local employers.

The effort, called Ascend Indiana, will include partnerships with existing and new career and technical education programs to ensure that students learn the skills that will qualify them for jobs that companies are currently struggling to fill.

Indianapolis employers have jobs available, but some companies have great difficulty filling open positions. There are enough job seekers to fill those jobs, but most do not have the right qualifications. So jobs go unfilled and job seekers remain unemployed.

The workforce skills gap is one of the biggest problems facing the city, Kloth told a packed room of business, community, and education leaders at the Skyline Club atop the OneAmerica Tower. Those leaders included Mayor Joe Hogsett, former Mayor Greg Ballard, Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, and others whom Kloth hopes will pitch in to solve it.

“A lot of people think unemployment is driven by not enough jobs being created,” Kloth said. “But in the U.S. and central Indiana a lot of unemployment is driven by not having enough education or content expertise to obtain the jobs that are open.”

The Ascend initiative includes four strategies to get more kids to graduate high school, complete college or training programs, and go into jobs in Indiana. The plan is to:

  • Study employer needs to determine what skills will lead to good jobs;
  • Identify workers who could move to better jobs and fill employer needs and offer them additional training;
  • Build new talent pipelines for industries that have jobs but not enough qualified applicants; and
  • Shift public policy to make the first three strategies work more easily.

Kloth said he envisions Ascend Indiana strengthening programs at local schools, connecting students directly with job opportunities, and providing employers with a steady flow of qualified candidates as they grow and create more jobs. The intended result: a stronger economy.

“This is a very attractive place for companies to expand and grow if they can access the talent they need to be successful,” Kloth said.

Ascend is a project of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, whose board of directors includes more than a dozen top executives of companies and organizations in Indianapolis. The effort is funded by seven local foundations, but the bulk of the funding came from a $5 million grant from the Lilly Endowment. (Lilly Endowment also supports Chalkbeat. Learn more about our funding here.) Some funding also came from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

By 2020, Kloth said, labor market research estimates nearly two-thirds of jobs will require study beyond a high school diploma. But right now only about 42 percent of adults have enough education, and the right training, to access those jobs. That translates to a gap of about 215,000 adults who could be employed in good jobs but fall short of the qualifications they need to land them.

Joyce Irwin, president and CEO of Community Health Network Foundation, gave the example of nursing as a changing field that needs its talent pipeline to evolve.

With the large Baby Boomer generation aging, the demand for health care services is growing at the same time when there is a shift toward more services delivered outside the hospital. That requires more nurses who can work more independently or as a part of integrated teams with other professionals.

So Community and other healthcare networks, she said, want to hire more nurses with bachelor’s degrees. Through Ascend Indiana, Community is crafting a program that will help its nurses work toward four-year degrees in partnership with universities, with some instruction delivered at work.

But in the long term, Irwin said she would like to see that pipeline extend back to K-12 schools, so that younger students have information about the skills they will need to complete a four-year nursing degree.

“At the beginning of the pipeline we can help them understand where nursing is going,” she said. “If you catch people younger you can get them to go toward the higher level skills.”

taking action

Commerce City students march to district building asking for a voice in their struggling school’s future

Students from Adams City High School march toward the district building April 25, 2017. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Students at a struggling high school in Commerce City took to the streets Tuesday to let district officials know they want a new principal and a say in the future of their school.

“We’re tired of not having consistency,” said Maria Castaneda, a 17-year-old senior at Adams City High School. “We’re asking them to hear our voices. Enough is enough.”

Hundreds of students from Adams City High School, joined by a handful of parents and community members, left school at noon to walk a little more than a mile to the district’s administration building.

The district has been searching for a permanent principal for the high school since the beginning of the school year when they promoted the former principal to a district position. The district has tried twice to hire a new principal, even selecting finalists both times. In the latest attempt, the school board decided against voting on the selected finalist meaning the search had to continue for a school leader.

The school — serving about 2,000 students including more than 80 percent who qualify for free or reduced price lunch — is also one of several across the state that are facing state action this spring after more than five years of low performance. The State Board of Education is expected to vote on a plan to turn around the school and the Adams 14 School District as a whole later this spring. Full plans haven’t been made public and several students and parents said they were not informed about what will happen.

“I didn’t know about any of the meetings,” said Socorro Hernandez, the mom of one student at the school. “We’ve just heard the school could close.”

Hernandez said that although she worries that her child isn’t getting a good education at the school, she thinks closing the school would not help.

Most students said what motivated them to walk out was not having a principal this school year. Many students said they have had a different principal every year they’ve been at the school and they worry that many of the teachers or administrators they do trust are leaving. Students also said the instability means work on next year’s schedules is falling behind.

“Who knows the school more than us?” asked Genavee Gonzales, a 17-year-old junior. “I feel like our education isn’t adequate, but it’s not the teachers’ fault. They aren’t getting enough resources or support from the school district.”

Commerce City police officers and security officials from the school escorted the students as they walked along busy Quebec Parkway. Drivers, including some in big trucks, honked and waved at the students as the crowd chanted down the street.

“Whose education?” student leaders shouted. “Our education!”

Almost an hour after arriving at the administration building, Javier Abrego, the Adams 14 School District superintendent, and Timio Archuleta, one of the district’s school board members, came out of the building and answered some of the students’ questions for about half an hour.

Students asked about the future of specific programs that many credited with their success at the school, and asked about funding for arts classes that they felt were in danger.

Abrego told students the school leaders would decide on a lot of those programs, but warned students that the school is in trouble and that attendance and test scores have to improve.

“They can take us over,” Abrego told the students. “Yes, I’m bringing in a new administration and I’m going to tell them these are the things we need to do.”

Another student asked how students we’re supposed to be motivated to go to school if all the adults they form relationships with at the school change each year.

Abrego reiterated that things have to change.

Students of Adams City High School

The district is scheduled May 11 to have a hearing in front of the state board. District officials were initially pursuing a plan to give the school new flexibilities through innovation status, but the district is now going to propose that an outside company take over some portions of the school and district’s work.

The state board may also suggest the school be turned over to a charter operator. However, the state is not allowed to “take over” management of the school or district as Abrego suggested.

Some of the students promised to return Tuesday night for the regularly scheduled school board meeting.

Board member Archuleta encouraged them to continue to provide their opinions in different ways.

“You guys are critically thinking,” Archuleta told the crowd. “That’s what I ask all students to do.”

Newcomers

Pulitzer-Prize winning author tells Indianapolis students a story some know well — of the dangerous journey from Central America to the U.S.

PHOTO: Courtesy: javier Barrera Cervantes, IPS newcomer program
Sonia Nazario signed copies of her book Enrique’s Journey, adapted from a newspaper series, at an event Monday.

For some of the students that heard Sonia Nazario speak at Shortridge High School Monday, the story she told of children making a perilous trip on the roofs and sides of freight trains to reach their parents in America was all too familiar.

Nazario wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper series, Enrique’s Journey, about a boy who traveled alone from Honduras to the United States to reunite with his mother.

“Several children today after my talk came up to me and said, ‘I made the exact same journey as Enrique,’” said Nazario, who also discussed her reporting with an audience of educators and community members Monday evening at an event hosted by Indianapolis Public Schools.

“These kids … are hunted like animals all the way as they migrate north through Mexico,” Nazario said. “There are people who are trying to rob them, rape them, beat them, deport them — all the way as they travel north.”

When IPS opened a newcomer program this year, dedicated to educating children who are new to the country and just learning English, enrollment quickly ballooned with teens who traveled alone from Central America. Chalkbeat spent a day with one student who fled gang violence in Honduras to reunite with her mother in Indianapolis.

Nazario highlighted the Indianapolis newcomer school as one example of how the district is helping kids adjust to America.

“I love newcomer schools,” Nazario said. “Those schools allow kids recently arrived to spend a year with other new arrivals, so that they can get their feet under them.”

Teenagers often make the journey to the U.S. to reconnect with parents who left them in their home countries when they were infants or young children, and Nazario called on educators to help parents and children talk about these painful years of separation.

“If there’s one thing as educators you take away from today, you must bring these parents and kids together to discuss this,” she said. “Until they do, (children) are so red with rage towards their parents, they cannot do anything else. They cannot focus on their studies.”