Educators and Business Leaders Come Together to Support School Reforms

Note: This column originally appeared on Construction Citizen


About 400 industry leaders and educators gathered in Houston to talk about students and the skilled trades.

In what will hopefully be the first in a series of events like it across Texas, business leaders and educators from the Houston area gathered to talk about the best ways they can work together to put kids on track for the skilled trades if that’s what those students want to do. The Building Careers: Construction Workforce Luncheon was well attended on November 5. As we’ve written many times on Construction Citizen, the college-for-all mentality and policy this state has embraced over the last decade has become a hindrance to the success of many students and the people who will eventually be their employers. That’s why there was a huge push in the Texas Legislature this year to reform curriculum and graduation requirements in a way that provides flexibility for students to either go to college or head straight for a career.

Despite the passage of those reforms, there is real concern they won’t truly be given time to work. There’s already talk in the halls of power in Austin about rolling back the changes because some segments of the business community, some educators, and other groups don’t agree with what was done. Those interests recently tried unsuccessfully to convince the Texas State Board of Education to keep strict graduation requirements in place. The attacks are precisely why reformers brought educators and industry leaders together at the George R. Brown Convention Center to talk about the best ways to implement the changes and prove they can be successful.

Marek Division President and ABC’s chair for the luncheon Mike Holland spearheaded the event but said that it was a real team effort to coordinate. “It was manned by volunteers and staff from all of the event sponsors,” Holland said. “This is a landmark event for our city and for our industry.”

Pasadena School District Superintendent Kirk Lewis told the crowd of about 400 people that his district has been aggressive on this issue even before the increased flexibility was approved by the legislature this year. Voters in Pasadena had already approved a bond package that will make it possible for the district to soon open a career and technology high school that will serve about 1700 students, he said. Lewis told the crowd that the book his 2-year-old grandson wants read to him just about every night is called Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. He said the boy already knows the difference between pieces of equipment like front-end loaders and graders. “He is keenly interested in it,” Lewis said. “It is my hope that we build an educational system that if that’s what he chooses to do, in about 20 years, that that’s what he’s able to do and he’s not forced into some direction that he doesn’t want to go.”
The superintendent also pointed out that while the two-year-old already understands that square pegs don’t fit into round holes, it seems some adults don’t quite understand that concept. “If it doesn’t fit, they force it and try to make it work,” he said of those who push college-for-all policies. “I don’t fault that at its premise, because I think every student needs to be capable of attending college if that’s what they wish,” he said. “Pushing kids for being college-ready is not a bad thing. It becomes a bad thing, I think, when we begin to create policies and systems that ignore the options that kids need to experience.”

Representative John Davis, R-Clear Lake, told the audience that businesses need to do as good a job of marketing careers as the military does with its recruitment efforts. “It is really on industries to promote that these are good jobs,” he said. “Our school counselors and parents also need to get away from the mindset that you’re somehow a second-tier citizen if you’re doing a trade. These jobs have honor, and a person can make a good living.”

Braddock talks with construction industry leader Jim Stevenson, who chairs the Construction Career Collaborative in Houston.

Braddock talks with construction industry leader Jim Stevenson, who chairs the Construction Career Collaborative in Houston.

Houston Division President of McCarthy Builders Jim Stevenson said that owners of projects, like school districts and others, need to demand craft training, safety training, and hourly pay and overtime on their buildings. These are the principles of the Construction Career Collaborative, which Stevenson chairs. “Imagine a day when an 18-year-old high school student graduates with the knowledge needed to enter the craft workforce instead of dropping out,” he said. Stevenson said with the right partnerships in place, there will come a day when “higher wages are a reality without an increase in overall cost to projects.”

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