Education

In an effort to prepare students for the future job market and current industry needs, a coalition of educational institutions around Louisville are committing to expand the range of tech education opportunities they offer to students from kindergarten through university.

Schools, community colleges and universities say they’re banding together, with the help of the city, to help Louisville grow its own digitally-literate workforce.

Ultimately, the goal is to attract high-paying tech employers to the area. At its outset, the LouTechWorks initiative is a set of ambitious goals secured from educational institutions, with no additional funding in hand and a lot of planning to come.

Mayor Greg Fischer announces the LouTechWorks Initiative, flanked by representatives from local schools, community colleges and universities.Liz Schlemmer | wfpl.org

Mayor Greg Fischer announces the LouTechWorks Initiative, flanked by representatives from local schools, community colleges and universities.

Mayor Greg Fischer announced the initiative Monday, surrounded by administrators from Jefferson County Public Schools, Jefferson Community & Technical College, Ivy Tech Community College, Bellarmine University, Indiana University Southeast, University of Kentucky and University of Louisville.

Through the collective commitments of those institutions, more than 3,000 area students would receive technology skills training each year, Fischer said. That would represent more than five times the current number of local students receiving tech training now, according to the city’s draft plan.

JCPS Hopes To Build The Tech Pipeline From An Early Age

The commitments JCPS has made toward the LouTechWorks initiative could bring tech training to children as young as elementary students. JCPS Assistant Superintendent of Transition Readiness Christy Rogers said the district’s goal is to train students be more “digitally agile.”

“We want our students to be handed any device or any software platform and be agile enough to perform for our companies and our industries to meet the needs of our city,” Rogers said.

JCPS has made the following commitments:

  • All middle school students will complete the Applied Digital Skills curriculum, which is currently being used by about 50 teachers throughout the district.
  • JCPS will work to ensure all high school students have access to career pathways or courses in information technology, engineering, computer science or robotics. Currently, JCPS offers IT career pathways at 10 of 21 high schools.
  • By 2022, all JCPS students will demonstrate applied digital skills as measured by an industry certification or industry-recognized digital badge. Rogers said JCPS may work with local business partners to develop badges that students can earn.

In addition to those new or expanded commitments, JCPS will:

  • Continue its work to increase students’ digital literacy through the Backpack of Success Skills program, which asks students to collect and present evidence of their learning using a Google platform.
  • Follow through with an application for a $4 million grant to fund a coding initiative in elementary schools.
  • Implement Kentucky’s new statewide K-12 computer science standards, as required by the Kentucky Department of Education.

At the mayor’s urging, Rogers said JCPS has pushed its goals for the depth and breadth of tech education it will offer in the next two to three years.

“Without this tech challenge, we would continue to expand [tech education] but now we’ve said the word ‘all’ so we’re working for all,” Rogers said, referring to JCPS’ commitments to expand offerings now piloted in some schools to reach every one of its 101,000 students.

Institutions of Higher Education Vow To Scale Up Current Offerings

Louisville community colleges and universities have committed to work to graduate more students receiving degrees in computer and analytics majors. The city’s draft plan for the initiative states that University of Louisville, Bellarmine and IU Southeast will more than double the number of computer science-related degrees they award in a matter of years. U of L also has plans to create four new degree programs and three new minors in tech fields.

JCTC and Ivy Tech Community College have committed to expanding their enrollment in tech related degrees and certificates. JCTC also has plans in the works to build a new advanced manufacturing and IT center and to launch a new IT apprenticeship program this fall.

“The timing could not be better for JCTC, or this community,” said JCTC President Ty Handy. “For me it’s validation that the work we thought we needed to do, that we thought that was important as a college, is truly valued by the city, by the mayor and by the business community that needs these IT positions.”

Mayor Fischer Calls For More Support

In his announcement, Fischer also called for business partners to join in the education community’s effort to support the LouTechWorks initiative with funding, job opportunities and apprenticeships and collaborative support. He encouraged businesses to join the Lou Tech Alliance to help build a stronger local ecosystem for tech development.

“As we look to continue the work of digital inclusion, we’re going to need many more partners to step up,” Fischer said.

Fischer also called on the legislature to bolster state funding for K-12 schools and higher education, especially for technology education.

“Unfortunately educational institutions continue to face cuts in state funding here in Kentucky, and until we as a Commonwealth begin to invest in our common future and a common tech future in particular, we cannot to expect to achieve better outcomes.”

Cover photo courtesy of Jefferson County Public Schools.

Liz Schlemmer is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.