Career-tech thrives under Toledo's collaborative approach

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One of the best career-tech programs in U.S. public schools received some well-deserved recognition this month when AFT executive vice president Francine Lawrence toured the Toledo Technology Academy, accompanied by Ohio Federation of Teachers president Melissa Cropper, the media, and staff from the office of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

AFT VP Fran Lawrence at Toledo school.

The high school magnet, which serves a student population where more than 4 in 10 come from economically disadvantaged families, is no stranger to plaudits—or results. Toledo Technology has produced champion teams in national robotics competitions and earned recognition in Ohio and nationally for a program that mixes academic excellence with project-based learning, much of it through challenging internships with 30 local business partners in areas such as manufacturing, engineering, science and technology. The school has a 100 percent graduation rate, and 95 percent of its students go on to higher education.

At TTA, students work on real-world projects for many of the businesses in the area and ply academic knowledge to designing and making parts on machinery that is found in manufacturing today. For example, students were able to make models of a flight simulator they had designed on a 3-D printer, a highly sought-after new technology.

It's a rich and engaging mix that spells opportunity for students, a school where "classrooms seem to buzz with students applying critical thinking, problem solving and project development—all of it under the skilled supervision of teachers and staff," says Lawrence, the former president of the Toledo Federation of Teachers. The AFT executive vice president also sat in on a meeting of the school's governing board during the visit, and she calls the school's inclusive, decision-making structure a big reason for its success.

"The private-public sector partnership represented on the TTA governing board represents community, industry and school district administration and union leadership," Lawrence says. "It's collaboration that works: A high percentage of students leave TTA equipped to become members of Ohio's skilled workforce."

Equally impressed was the staffer representing Sen. Brown, a longtime sponsor of federal legislation to encourage these types of skill-building partnerships for students. And the visit also generated positive coverage from major news outlets. "Fran Lawrence needs no introduction to Toledo Public Schools," the Blade in Toledo reported on a visit that showcased TTA "as an example of a public school doing something different and getting results."

Lawrence capped the visit by attending a meeting tied to Toledo schools' groundbreaking and nationally recognized approach to peer assistance and review. [Marie-Louise Caravatti, Mike Rose/photo by Lori King]

May 24, 2013