Partnerships Power Innovative St Vrain Valley Pathways

Key Points

  • The St. Vrain portfolio of pathways is a result of sustained and intentional leadership in partnering with a dynamic community and growing staff. 

  • Learning environments for students and working conditions for staff blend high expectations with strong support.

  • The commitment to supporting great teaching in every classroom is unparalleled.

St Vrain Valley

First generation students at Skyline High School in Longmont, Colorado have the opportunity to gain high tech work experience and earn an Associate of Applied Science Degree with their high school diploma. The FalconTECH academy at Skyline combines work-based learning at IBM and an accelerated degree pathway with Front Range Community College.

Serving its seventh cohort, FalconTECH was the first P-TECH in Colorado. Supported by IBM for the last 10 years, P-TECH is an internationally adopted grade 9-14 school model that combines high school, an AA degree, industry credentials and tech internships.

Starting as a math teacher, Heidi Ringer has been at Skyline for 25 years and has been principal for the last decade. In addition to FalconTECH, Ringer was a part of the launch of a STEM Academy and Visual and Performing Arts Academy. She’s proud that more than three quarters of FalconTECH students are the first in their families to be experiencing success in college.  

Work-based learning opportunities for the 230 FalconTECH students start during their freshman year. Paid summer internships are an opportunity for juniors. IBM has also provided virtual mentors for students. IBM has hired 27 FalconTECH graduates.

Freshmen and sophomores take a couple of college courses at school. College courses make up the majority of the schedule for juniors and seniors, some on the Skyline campus and some at Front Range. A remarkable two-thirds of graduates leave with an AA degree (although it takes some students an extra year to complete).

“It’s a pathway with a purpose and support, that’s why students are so successful,” said Skyline Assistant Principal and FalconTECH Director Greg Stephens.

A Portfolio of Personalized Pathways

Skyline is one of eight comprehensive high schools in the St. Vrain Valley School District. Each has well-developed community-connected career academies and/or focus programs. Fredrik High has a Biomedical Sciences Academy and another P-TECH in BioChemistry. Erie High features an Academy of Engineering and Aerospace. Longmont High has a Medical and BioScience Academy, High School of Business Academy, and a P-TECH in Business launching in 2023. Mead High features an Energy Academy. Silver Creek High features a Leadership Academy and a P-TECH in Cybersecurity. Niwot High has a robust International Baccalaureate Program. Lyons Middle Senior High is in the process of launching a focus on environmental leadership.

The commitment to supporting great teaching in every classroom is unparalleled.

Tom Vander Ark

Superintendent Dr. Don Haddad’s created a focus on “P-14 academic excellence by design.”  

Haddad has led the 33,000-student district for 15 years (22 years in district) with an exceptional leadership team most of which have been together for a decade. “We have launched over 70 diversified and rigorous instructional focus academies and programs across all 60 of our schools,” said Haddad.  

“We focus on having a great teacher in every classroom,” said Haddad. St. Vrain teachers are among the highest paid in the state. They participate in professional learning after school and on weekends to avoid having a lot of substitutes teaching classes.

The district is intentional about developing talent internally while building strong partnerships externally. Pathways are supported by more than than120 district-level partnerships and over 435 school partnerships.

Thirty miles north of Denver, Longmont (and nearby Boulder) has become a tech hub. But the sprawling district also serves mountain towns and rural communities–some of the most liberal and most conservative areas of the state. Haddad and the #StVrainStorm have innovated through the complexity by focusing on academic excellence, supporting the community (“How can we serve you” rather than “Here’s what we need from you”) and championing unrelentingly positive communications about the work of St. Vrain teachers and students. Rather than asking for handouts, Haddad talks about workforce, property values, and democracy.  

The district won big federal Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation grants that helped advance pathway programs and develop the Innovation Center, a spectacular next-generation career center offering courses in robotics, avionics, AR/VR, biotech, and entrepreneurship. It’s “a catalyst, incubator, and bridge” between education, industry, and the community.

Assistant Superintendent of Innovation Joe McBreen said half of the Innovation Center came from industry. They partner with traditionally prepared educators to provide powerful pathways experiences. Innovation Center students engage in relevant experiences in the state-of-the-art facility and they engage local businesses in job shadows, events and internships. Some Innovation Center learners team up on client projects–they deliver real value for business and civic partners and get paid $13 per hour.

McBreen loves to show guests the 3D-Printing-as-a-Service room (below) at the Innovation Center. All 60 St Vrain schools share the print-on-demand capability with next-day delivery. Students can watch the printing on live video with none of the smell or maintenance headaches.  

Just past the Innovation Center lobby, there is a giant fish tank, only this one is home to robots. In what must be the world’s best high school underwater robot lab, students work on robots used by the city of Longmont, the Denver Zoo, and by ecology partners in Peru.

Robotics teacher Nathan Wilcox describes the four pillars of the robotics program: computer science, electrical-mechanical, design-fabrication, and robotics applications. He hopes to host the world championship for aquatic robotics in Longmont next year.

Innovation Center Executive Director Axel Reitzig champions robotics district-wide. There are over 210 robotics teams in St. Vrain with teams in all 60 schools. In April, St. Vrain students won the world championship in The FIRST Robotics Challenge and The FIRST Tech Challenge. Reitzig calls robotics the “best disruptive practice” because it is so engaging, integrated, creative, and team-based.  

And, speaking of world championships, in December, the AI team from the Innovation Center won the World Artificial Intelligence Competition for Youth.

Next to the underwater robotics lab are state-of-the-art aeronautics labs–one where Certified Flight Instructor Colin Dielmann teaches students to fly airplanes, the other where Josiah Slaydonto helps young pilots build and fly Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS or drones). Both are examples of Innovation Center staff with extensive private sector experience and a passion for teaching. Staydonto challenges students to use UAS to help solve the world’s problems.

The Innovation Center also hosts Pathways to Teaching (P-TEACH) which introduces St.Vrain high school students and classified staff to a career as an educator by offering a variety of concurrent enrollment courses. Students and staff members can earn up to 31 college credits through CU Denver. Over 100 high school students from all campuses are engaged in P-TEACH and 48 paraprofessionals are on a path to a degree and teaching credential.

The St. Vrain Career Elevation and Technology Center (CETC) is celebrating its 50th year of

providing real-world experiences in pathways to high-wage, high-growth employment. Pathways include Advanced Manufacturing, Agricultural Science, Automotive Tech, Healthcare, Culinary, and Law. The pathways often link to specific post-secondary programs leading to degrees and certificates.

St Vrain Virtual High School is delivered through a partnership with FLVS. Students are encouraged to attend onsite when they are in town. Virtual High students can also access courses at the CETC  and Innovation Center.

St. Vrain Valley teachers serve about 600 online K-12 students through LaunchED Virtual Academy using locally curated content on Schoology. The LaunchED team is also piloting expanded synchronous course choice in hard-to-staff subjects making it possible for one or two students to take an advanced course from another school.  

About 800 homeschool students attend classes a day per week and access online resources through the APEX Homeschool Program.

Engaging pathways and strong student supports helped boost St. Vrain’s four-year graduation rate to nearly 92%, up 16 points since 2010 (while graduation requirements were increased).

The St. Vrain portfolio of pathways is a result of sustained and intentional leadership in partnering with a dynamic community and growing staff. Learning environments for students and working conditions for staff blend high expectations with strong support. The commitment to supporting great teaching in every classroom is unparalleled. The clarity of mission and positive energy across large school systems make St Vrain Valley schools unique and worth visiting.  

This post is part of our New Pathways campaign sponsored by American Student Assistance® (ASA), Stand Together and the Walton Family Foundation.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Discover the latest in learning innovations

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.