New East County construction charter school set to build careers

Discover why their educational concept is a far cry from “high school shop class”! See how their idea can turn potential high-school flunk-outs into good citizens – with well-paying jobs …

In this building on NE 158th Avenue, the Academy of Architecture, Construction & Engineering will open its doors to students in September, 2008.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
After a distinguished career in education, including being the Superintendent of Parkrose School District for eight years until his retirement in June, Michael Taylor earned the right to put his feet up and relax.

But loafing isn’t in Taylor’s nature. He’s on to his next challenge: Creating a charter school in outer East Portland.

Speaking before the Parkrose Business Association, Taylor, and Oregon Business Congress (OBC) executive director Dr. Richard O’Connor, PhD, outlined their plan to open the “Academy of Architecture, Construction & Engineering (ACE)”.

Four years in the making
“We were approached by the Oregon Building Congress about creating a construction industry related academy four years ago,” Taylor began. “Because the building we were considering was located in Portland, we had to secure the charter through Portland Public Schools. It didn’t work out.”

Michael Taylor (sitting in his new office at the school) says he didn’t give up on the construction academy idea, even though they were spurned by Portland Public Schools four years ago.

But the idea so intrigued Taylor, he kept working on it.

“Terry Kneisler, Superintendent of the Reynolds School District, and I went back to OBC and told them that we’re still interested. Reynolds, Centennial, Parkrose, and Gresham-Barlow School Districts are the educational partners in the academy.”

Hybrid program provides skills and social life
“Public high schools are idealistic. Schools don’t necessarily want to produce laborers. They are about ‘opening doors’, and introducing students to opportunities and possibilities,” Taylor said.

“High schools do well at providing general education. And kids need the social engagement they get in a public high school,” he went on. “But they don’t do well connecting education to the ‘real’ world.”

ACE students will get the best of both worlds, Taylor explained, because they attend the academy – and their “home” high school – on alternate days.

The building that will house the ACE Academy is fully-equipped with modern classrooms and spacious construction laboratory areas.

Not reinventing the wheel
Instead of creating the school from scratch, Taylor said they modeled the ACE academy on East County’s Center for Advanced Learning (CAL).

“CAL provides training in manufacturing, information technology, and the medical professions. The idea of a charter school wrapped around the construction trades makes sense.”

While the new academy’s concept is unique, Taylor says, “What is different is how this partnership is coming together. Typically, the schools are the majority partner; in this case, they’ve agreed to be minority partners.”

More than shop classes
“The concept of specialized learning academies really makes sense,” explained Taylor, “because many students don’t have the money or desire to get a college degree.

“But because of the diverse training available at ACE, students may come in thinking they will learn to swing a hammer, but end up leaving as graduates who want to become architects.”

Richard O’Connor, Oregon Building Congress, says this new charter school will help students earn family-wage jobs, plus provide able workers for the construction trades.

OBC: Ten years of construction education
OBC’s Executive Director, Richard O’Connor, told us, “The organization was created in 1921, and has successfully dealt with industry issues. In more recent years, it searched for a mission; it was like a ‘hammer looking for a nail’ until we developed the ‘Building Futures’ educational program.”

About 10 years ago, OBC started working with high schools, helping them create “construction academies”. They created teacher development programs that integrated construction skills with traditional math and English courses.

Since their “Building Futures” program connects academics with real-life job skills, O’Connor continued, “Kids become jazzed about taking more math courses and finishing high school. Upon graduation, many students took more schooling and entered trade apprenticeships.”

“We’ve successfully worked with more than a thousand teachers,” confided O’Connor. “Because our courses were provided by top industry professionals, the teachers rate our program highly. Although the ACE academy is brand new, OBC has a wealth of educational experience.”

Richard O’Connor, Oregon Building Congress, presents one of their two “Educator of the Year” awards to the Michel Taylor, the new Executive Director of ACE academy. Although not shown, Terry Kneisler, Reynolds School District Superintendent, was also named “Educator of the Year” for his work in establishing the ACE Academy charter school.

Fills needs of industry and workers
At the Oregon Building Congress’ annual meeting, held this year at the site of the new ACE academy on October 10, O’Connor told us there are three reasons why this new charter school fills an urgent need.

“Construction is the fasting growing industry in this area In addition to construction workers, engineers and architects are also in short supply.

“Secondly, this education will provide solid, family-wage jobs to graduates. Graduates will have new choices: They can go directly into the construction trades or pursue technical or managerial careers.

“Finally, consider this. East County has the highest poverty rate in the greater Portland area. We think this school can be an engine for economic development.”

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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