Rural cooperative offers shared CTE paths

Noticing a lack of career and technical education programs for students in smaller outlying districts, the Education Partnership of the Permian Basin has launched the Permian Basin Innovation Zone.

Director Sara Saleem said PBIZ is a collaborative of the larger nonprofit, the Education Partnership of the Permian Basin.

Permian Basin Innovation Zone is dedicated to expanding opportunities for rural students in the Permian Basin.

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, Texas has more schools in rural areas than any other state, with more than 2,000 campuses designated as rural, an editorial from PBIZ said.

McCamey ISD, Buena Vista ISD, Grandfalls-Royalty ISD, and Crane ISD, in partnership with Odessa College, Midland College, and the Education Partnership of the Permian Basin, have formed a collaborative aimed at leveraging resources and expanding shared college and career pathways to provide an outstanding education for rural students.

The Education Partnership generally functions as a facilitator to help with any education based problem across the Permian Basin, Saleem said. The lack of access by rural students to career and technology pathways is something that can limit students’ ability to join the workforce, which means the entire community or region is stuck in a cycle of poverty, Saleem said.

“It was an attempt to break that cycle by getting to the root cause of the k-12 systems that due to budgeting constraints and staffing constraints just are not able to provide the career technology end of education,” Saleem said.

PBIZ started with a survey of the Permian Basin and poorer districts who would be interested in creating shared CTE pathways that would encompass everything from “middle school exploratory learning all the way to post high school — either higher ed placement or workforce placement. We would build all of the bridges in the system for them,” Saleem said.

The initial career and technical education pathways are welding, education and medical.

“Crane offers an accelerated welding program, so PBIZ students aren’t opting into that yet. However, Crane was able to offer an interesting solution this year. Due to the current district bell schedules, it was logistically difficult to transport students between Grandfalls-Royalty and McCamey. Being at the center, Crane offered the classroom space and welding lab. We now have a dynamic where McCamey students are meeting the Grandfalls-Royalty teacher at Crane’s facility to access the welding pathway,” Saleem said.

Each district is specializing in a pathway providing space, equipment, and staff which is open to any student within the PBIZ collaborative.

“Crane offers an accelerated welding program, so our students aren’t opting into that yet. Crane was able to offer an interesting solution. Grandfalls-Royalty was a little too far for us to make the bell schedules work for the McCamey students to access welding, so Crane is the middle of both and offered the classroom space in their lab,” Saleem said.

In the four districts, there are about 500 students in high school. They started with ninth graders this year, but 10th graders will be added next year and so on.

The Permian Basin Innovation Zone successfully launched in fall 2023 with 43% of its Phase 1 cohort enrolled in shared pathways – close to half of whom are economically disadvantaged, the editorial said.

“There are about 150 ninth graders across all four districts and 67 are enrolled in one of the shared pathways. It’s a pretty large percentage for a Phase I cohort. Almost 50 percent of the students are classified as economically disadvantaged. We’re hopeful that kind of pattern continues,” Saleem said.

Their goal by 2025 is to launch three other CTE programs in addition to these.

“We’re looking into auto tech, oil and gas, renewable energy and possibly drones … within the next two to three years. We opted into a phase in method to ensure what we are offering students is backed by current labor market analysis and meets our goal of helping bridge the gap between k-12 and either workforce or higher education. It takes time to do this because we offer programs of study that expand dual credit offerings, allow students to earn credentials/certificates, and provide access to work-based experiences. We’re also working to incorporate exploratory learning during middle school years and continue that into high school as students progress through the pathways. This year’s eighth graders will have an opportunity to visit the PBIZ academies housed at other districts. In collaboration with our local business industry partners, we are planning to set up site visits for our ninth graders to explore what a day in the field is like so that students have authentic workplace experiences,” Saleem said.