An in-district charter tailored to invigorate and inspire students for careers in “high-demand, 21st century technology” fields will soon move into two unused buildings on the Fox Tech High School campus, San Antonio Independent School District officials announced Thursday morning.
Site selection on North Flores Street comes not a moment too soon.
CAST Tech High School is on an ambitious schedule to renovate the former vocational shop buildings, hire a full staff, develop a modern curriculum, and ring its first class bell for 125-150 ninth graders by the 2017 school year next fall.
The school was developed by a unique public-private partnership between SAISD, TechBloc, and H-E-B. The San Antonio-based grocery giant and its Chairman and CEO Charles Butt gave $3.6 million last month to hire sought-after teachers and administrators while Tech Bloc, the tech and downtown advocacy organization, will lend its industry expertise to formulate a STEM-heavy curriculum for CAST Tech.
“The newly envisioned Fox Tech campus is the perfect site for the CAST Tech high school,” stated Kate Rogers, vice president for H-E-B Corporate Communication and Health Promotion in a news release sent out Thursday morning. “It provides the best of both worlds – a separate building with its own identity as well as common amenities that the students can take advantage of such as a gym, a music room, and a theater.
“We especially like the fact that the new tech high school will be located in the original career and technical education buildings, symbolizing a shift in preparing students for exciting careers in the new economy that is emerging just down the street in the San Antonio Tech District,” Rogers stated.
The fundraising effort and search for a sustainable funding model continues. It’s possible that CAST Tech will borrow a play from its new neighbor, SAISD’s first Advanced and Creative Learning Academy set to open at Fox Tech and Austin Academy this fall.
The academy serves as a laboratory school for Trinity University students seeking careers in education. The university will continue to raise funds and provide talent for the academy.
The vision for the school is a curriculum focused on hi-tech and applied learning, with internships available to students at nearby San Antonio Tech District businesses. This physical proximity, Tech Bloc leaders hope, will provide skilled graduates easier access to the city’s burgeoning tech pipeline.
CAST Tech features two tracks for students: one on the more technical side of the industry including focuses on cybersecurity, coding, gaming, animation, and digital media and the other on the “business side” including entrepreneurship, business analytics, informatics, business administration, banking, and finance.
Students who wish to attend CAST Tech will be selected by lottery and will not have to meet academic requirements to apply. Half of the students will be from inside SAISD and half will be from Bexar County.
The school is located further away from East Houston Street than some predicted it would be, where much of the tech industry and developments downtown are clustering – but it’s well within walking distance of the growing downtown housing and commercial markets.
“The Tech district boundary is unofficial. It’s nothing more than what I drew up on a map, based on various projects that have already occurred and are slated to occur,” Tech Bloc CEO David Heard said in a phone interview. “The Tech District is something that is not an official public designation, but is more of an IT-industry identity. It’s a branding and outreach opportunity to highlight the density and clustering occurring down in that zone. The backbone is Houston Street, but (Fox Tech High School) is definitely in the zone.”
Geekdom alone hosts dozens of startups and hundreds of tech-minded entrepreneurs and coders in the Rand Building while other locations are seeing a surge in demand for tech-friendly offices, co-working spaces like San Antonio Entrepreneur Center, and coding boot camps like Codeup.
Priority one is that the Tech District is walkable, Heard said. “Had the location of this high school been in an area that precluded children from walking or biking for internships and the like, then I think we might have issues around a lost opportunity to be a part of that tech district experience. But this (area) is clearly walkable and bikeable, and we are ecstatic with this site.”
Once established downtown, CAST – which stands for Centers for Applied Science and Technology – plans to spread across San Antonio into other districts.
Plans to open a second CAST Tech location that will focus on advanced manufacturing are in the works with Southwest Independent School District. The two campuses will form the beginning of a citywide network of high schools focused on preparing students for careers and advanced learning.
“This is another key step that moves us closer to creation of what will be a new brand of high school for San Antonio, thanks to H-E-B and its forward-thinking leaders and the support of Tech Bloc,” stated SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez. “The school will allow SAISD to offer its students, as well as others from across the city, one of the best educations in the hottest tech fields – and it will allow us to breathe new life into buildings meant to prepare students for careers.”
Bexar County has also promised CAST Tech a BiblioTech, a digital library space with computers and tablets, for the downtown campus.
The BiblioTech offer is an important element of the plan for CAST Tech. SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez promised not to reallocate funding from other district schools to fund CAST Tech, so a BiblioTech will keep costs lower than if the school were to open a traditional library.
Rivard Report intern reporter Sarah Talaat contributed to this article.
Disclosure: H-E-B, Charles Butt, and Tech Bloc Co-Founder Lew Moorman contribute to the Rivard Report.
Top image: SAISD Associate Superintendent Kamal ElHabr stands on the front steps of what will become CAST Tech High School. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.