San Antonio’s Economic Imperative: Education & Workforce Development

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Leticia Van de Putte connects with students during a recent classroom visit. Courtesy photo.

Leticia Van de Putte connects with students during a recent classroom visit. Courtesy photo.

An associate’s degree, credit towards a bachelor’s degree, industry certification, a position at Lockheed Martin, a 401K plan, high security clearance, and no debt. You would think that this is the profile of a successful 30-year-old, but this San Antonio story is about an 18-year-old named Adam Arroyo. Adam and I met in 2012. His enthusiasm was contagious, his work ethic strong, and his future is incredibly bright. Adam was a first-generation college student who graduated from the Aerospace Academy at Alamo Academies. His success story is one we want for all of our children in San Antonio. The education and workforce development of San Antonians like Adam are not just promises we make to the next generation: they are economic imperatives.

The jobs of today and tomorrow are ones we could not have even imagined 20 years ago. As a girl who went to school with a slide rule, I remember when a “twitter” was a sound a bird made, and 4G was a parking space. Now, we are storing data in clouds. This is no longer our parents’ economy: the days of a high school degree translating to a middle-class lifestyle with a mortgage and two cars in the driveway are gone. Everything has changed.

By 2020, 65% of all jobs in the economy will require a post-high school credential, and some employers require a four-year degree just to get a job interview. Yet, the latest data for San Antonio shows that college enrollment by high school graduates has declined steadily over the last four years and, when compared to the country’s largest cities, San Antonio continues to have one of the lowest percentages of adults with college degrees.

Portrait by Kevin G Saunders Photography, a local photographer and small business owner operating out of Blue Star.

Leticia Van de Putte. Portrait by Kevin G. Saunders Photography, a local photographer and small business owner operating out of Blue Star.

Having represented the people of San Antonio in the Texas Legislature for more than 24 years, I have had the privilege of learning from and working with local, state, national, and international leaders who hold our shared vision that every child – no matter where they live – receives a quality education. As San Antonio’s next mayor, I will bring all of these relationships to bear as we work toward our goal of orchestrating one of the greatest education turnarounds in the United States.

San Antonio has seen the dedication of countless people, businesses, associations, and nonprofits committed to providing a high-quality education to students across our city. Recent efforts to house, harness, and move these strategic initiatives forward are important because successful partnerships will be key to an effective implementation. But programs alone will not get us to our goal. A smart, 21st century economy requires a blueprint for success. The only way to achieve this success is through proven leadership with committed actions to ensure that implementation is not only effective, but systemic. I have the record and experience needed to bring systemic change to the quality of education in San Antonio.

I believe systemic change is what we will need to grow and attract the jobs of tomorrow. As U.S. Rep. William Hurd shared in his recent “State of the District” address, due to our potential workforce and military missions, San Antonio has the unique opportunity to lead the nation in cybersecurity.

Like many others, I agree. That is why I passed legislation in 2011 to create the state’s cybersecurity, education, and Economic Development Council to promote growth in the industry and enhance the security of Texas’ sensitive data. I know that City Hall can be a strong partner in helping Congressman Hurd recruit one of the nine Air Force cybersecurity offices to locate in San Antonio. To succeed, our city will need a prepared workforce that attracts the industry and has the skills to fill these new demanding jobs.

First, we must empower our local partnerships and organizations to engage with other cities and build relationships we will need so that San Antonians have every opportunity to be competitive. Together, we will formulate action plans that provide the support needed to implement the most effective workforce development practices from across our city, state and country in San Antonio schools.

We will tout the successes of our own Alamo Academies as we exchange best practices with school districts across our city and state — such as the innovative sharing of facilities between community partners at the Byron Martin Advanced Technology Center in Lubbock, and the industry-led development of rigorous curriculum by Bell Helicopter at Fort Worth ISD. The exchange of best practices will enable to us to make sure we provide San Antonio students with the relevant and rigorous education needed to compete in this global market.

Together, we must maximize the resources available and needed to expand dual credit and advanced placement (AP) courses in San Antonio so our students can earn college credit while still attending high school. Not only do these programs keep education costs down for students and middle class families: they prepare them to enter the workforce faster and without debt.

Together, the city will seek a partnership with Advise TX, so more peer counselors are placed in our high schools. Lower ratios of students to peer counselors will ensure that students, especially first-generation college-going students, receive meaningful guidance as they prepare for college.

Leticia Van de Putte serves patients at the pharmacy. Courtesy photo.

Leticia Van de Putte serves patients at the pharmacy. Courtesy photo.

My priority will be to support the expansion of early college high schools across the city, like those in SAISD, so more students can graduate with both a diploma and a college degree. The early college high school model has been recognized nationally as innovative and successful in improving graduation rates, increasing college attainment, and preparing students for the workforce.

For example, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo (PSJA) school district in the Rio Grande Valley is credited with pioneering early college high schools across their entire district. This systemic model has proven that socio-economic status is no barrier to success. PSJA’s demographics are very similar to those in San Antonio; yet almost 97% of the students in PSJA graduate high school compared to 87% in SAISD, and more than 50% graduate from a PSJA high school with college hours. We must maximize any opportunity to make college more affordable for students and parents while saving the taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars.

To become America’s next great city, we must think and act holistically, actively learning from what the best and brightest are doing to be successful. There should be no classroom model left unexamined; no technology unexplored; no city in Texas, the U.S., or the world, successful in preparing its students for the workforce, that we are unwilling to visit. We must leave no stone unturned so that, like Adam or students at PSJA, every student in a San Antonio school is provided a fair shot at the opportunity to compete locally and globally. I have faith that, together, we will achieve our city’s goal and help our children and grandchildren achieve theirs.

*Featured/top image: Leticia Van de Putte connects with students during a recent classroom visit. Courtesy photo.

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