They’re one week into the third year for Chicago Tech Academy, the new public high school we created to teach and inspire the next generation of Chicago’s techies and entrepreneurs. One of many unique facets of ChiTech is the extensive involvement of Chicago’s tech community… as mentors, donors, and boosters; as hosts for interns and field trips; and as role models and connections for young people reaching out for great careers and bright futures.
I spent time today in the classrooms, and to meet and work with many of the new teachers (a dozen were hired this year out of more than 1,200 applicants). It’s fun to see so many new faces from the freshmen class, and to see how far the familiar students have come since I first met them.
When the idea for this school was first presented, I didn’t want much to do with it. The original plan was a sort of vo-tech school that aspired (at best!) to get kids certified with basic technology skills and ready to enter the workforce. I argued for higher expectations, and a program that developed aptitude and inspiration and connected the kids with a network of people that could shape their futures. Our objective should be at minimum students ready to get jobs after high school, but our aim should be to inspire many to reach higher.
There will soon be 600 students enrolled at Chicago Tech Academy. They are a diverse group drawn from across the city. Some kids commute more than three hours a day to and from school. Many of the students are ready now to go to college, and some are already working on business ideas. Others have entered the school far behind their classmates; nearly one in five require some sort of special education. Most of the students come from disadvantaged homes and neighborhoods. But there is an overwhelming sense of pride in the hallways – these kids sense they’re part of something different, and recognize their unique opportunities.
Chicago’s tech community should be proud of the progress of this school, and the hundreds of community leaders that have volunteered their support. We have a very long way to go, and enormously high expectations for what can be achieved. But it’s clear to me today that we’re on the right track.
This morning in the “Entrepreneurs in the Making” class, I watched sophomores brainstorm a list of common traits for founders and entrepreneurs. They filled a white board with ideas, but the first three on the list were Creativity,Courage and Confidence.
Later, I spent the afternoon with the entire teaching team (now 43 members strong). I spoke about ChiTech as a start-up, what it will take for us to succeed and the collaborative spirit in which we’re building the school. My message to teachers drew from those three entrepreneurial traits the students had identified in class:
- Creativity – we encourage the creative approach of this school and its teachers; as a charter school, they can experiment in ways most public schools cannot, and we reward teachers that bring new ideas to relevant curriculum, differentiated instruction and positive behavioral support. We’re asking teachers to involve industry projects into their classrooms, and nurture skills specific to techies and entrepreneurial thinkers.
- Courage – we celebrate the bold teachers and the audacity of this school to set very high expectations for students, many of whom are experiencing high expectations for the first time in their lives; there are plenty of less courageous options: we could have only chosen gifted students, or kids that had been favored by good education; we could have embraced a routine curriculum, or placed less emphasis on the personal development of each student.
- Confidence – we embrace the mission of this school, to extend opportunity to students, families and neighborhoods that aren’t well connected to our tech community; we want teachers who are confident because they’re part of a team of real pros, and backed by community of industry leaders that want to be involved and help.
It’s been my privilege to represent Chicago’s tech community and provide some leadership and support in launching this school. There’s plenty of need and room for more help… I encourage you to become a donor or signup as a mentor (email the mentor coordinator Amanda). Or, if you want to talk about the school and even bigger ways to get involved, feel free to contact me directly… I’d love to chat.