East Mills, Glenwood Forging Partnership For Career Pathways Program

Once possible competitors in launching their own career pathways programs for high schoolers, the East Mills and Glenwood Community School Districts are laying the groundwork for a collaborative effort in seeking grant funding, complimentary programming and shared leadership between the two districts.

East Mills’ Southwest Iowa Technical Career Hub (SWITCH), the career and technical education center, came out of a promise to district voters during its $22 million bond vote in 2021 for the renovations of a K-12 school in Malvern. The SWITCH center, to be located in the building that currently houses East Mills Elementary School along Highway 34, will bring technical education pathways to high school students in the region.

In August of last year, Glenwood unveiled its plan to open its own innovation center serving high schoolers seeking jump starts in careers in tech.

The two centers would exist separately but be partnered in its career training offerings and possibly staff, and would share a director.

Last October, East Mills hired Kattie Lewis as the director of the SWITCH program. She will also serve as a career coach for Iowa Western Community College (IWCC), a strategic partner on both projects.

Dr. Devin Embray, Superintendent at GCSD, indicated last week the hope is to have Lewis run both facilities. The idea of having Lewis possibly lead both came out of talks about the scope of each program and how the two districts could work collaboratively.

“We kind of felt both programs weren’t large enough to have two people directing so we kind of had a conversation with them,” Embray said. “So as soon as we’re up and running we’d bring Kattie on to help run ours.”

Lewis has currently a verbal agreement with Glenwood to be the director of its innovation center once it’s up and running.

“We share the same vision, we all want Mills County to be great, and this is a great way to do that,” Lewis said. We can offer certain programming at SWITCH and we can offer certain programming at the innovation center. Together we can offer more programming to more students in the Mills County area and beyond. It just made sense and Iowa Western is on board and we’re working collaboratively instead of competitively. I think that’s very important for serving our students.”

Both programs intend to offer three strands of programming initially. The SWITCH site will offer classes in industrial maintenance, early childhood education and certified nursing assistance training. In Glenwood, the three strands offered would be digital communications, cybersecurity and robotics.

The schedule for high schoolers would likely be set up in two-hour, morning or afternoon blocks. The centers would then offer evening programming aimed at adult education.

Both SWITCH and Glenwood did surveys of surrounding schools with student and parents to determine what strands best suited those interests, according to Embray.

SWITCH was recently awarded a Governor’s Office STEM Advisory Committee’s Businesses Engaging Students and Teachers (BEST) grant to assist with establishing the program in three phases: learning, implementation and sustainability. The center is on schedule to open in the fall of 2024.

Embray said the Glenwood program, which would be housed in the administration building on the Glenwood Resource Center campus, could be up and running as early as the fall of 2024, depending on renovations.

The state has indicated to Embray a desire for the district to maintain a presence on the campus following the facility’s closing. The district recently ruled out the GRC’s Meyer building as the future elementary school site, but the building is still under consideration for the district’s ancillary services.

Both programs plan to seek Career Academy Incentive Fund grants through the Department of Education. The $1 million grants would go toward getting the programs off the ground.

“We’re doing some great things as far as seeking out funding to get this program lifted off the ground and also getting ready for that phase of interacting with businesses and forging those relationships for today’s students and tomorrows workforce,” Lewis said.
Just who will teach students those classes at the facilities and if they will function independently or under one umbrella remains up in the air. Instruction could be handled by current staff at each district or by IWCC instructors.

Both districts are looking at other similar, yet not quite identical programs, such as the Jones County Regional Center in Kirkwood and Sioux City’s “Future Ready” cohort, for modeling the Mills County programs as they build from scratch.

“We’re in the process of planning how to staff the strands and deciding if those strands are going to actually be the ones we offer in 2024,” Embray said. “They could modify or change depending on the letters of support from outside districts. We can’t pull this off without their support.”

SWITCH is currently operating under the umbrella of East Mills and IWCC with the goal of being its own, sustainable 501(c)3 non-profit program by its launch in 2024.

There’s no shortage of schools interested in the programs, Embray said. The Fremont-Mills, Council Bluffs Lewis Central, Treynor, Sidney, Red Oak and Griswold districts have all expressed interest in sending students. Depending on interest and available spots, the program could be open to Nebraska districts.

“There’s interest,” he said. “It depends on the strands and the instructors. A lot of times these programs live or die depending on the how dynamic and engaging the instructor is with the program.”

Lewis agrees both programs are a “big lift.” Collaboration and coordination will be key. The program will be unlike any other in this corner of the state.

“It’s an exciting opportunity but it’s also something we’re conscious of,” Lewis said. “We want to make good decisions because we want this to work, collaboratively, effectively and efficiently.”


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