DRC Member Companies Tour New Dallas ISD Career Training Center

Michael Wood, Managing Director, Education & Workforce

Members of the DRC Education & Workforce Council at Dallas ISD Career Institute North.

The DRC hosted members of its Education and Workforce Council at Dallas ISD’s Career Institute North campus on Tuesday, Sept. 12.

Funded by the 2020 Dallas ISD bond program, Career Institute North is one of four planned career and technical education hubs that will service every high school in the district by providing students access to a variety of career and workforce training pathways that are not available at their home campus. These programs are designed to supplement a student’s standard course load and enable the attainment of industry-specific certifications aligned with high-demand, high-wage occupations upon high school graduation.

“Dallas ISD’s commitment to career readiness is admirable,” said Jennifer Chandler, Dallas Market President and Head of Philanthropic Solutions for Bank of America and Vice Chair of the DRC’s Education and Workforce Council. “As a business community, we need to continue to lean into our public schools to form partnerships that help prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, especially those in our own companies.”

Presently, Career Institutes North, South, and East are operational, although Career Institute North is the only campus that is fully complete. Career Institute South will be finished for the 2024-2025 school year, followed by Career Institute East in 2025-2026. Career Institute West will open its doors in fall 2026.

The Career Institutes are similar in spirit to Dallas ISD’s robust Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, program, which also aims to equip students with a postsecondary degree or credential upon high school graduation. Career Institutes are unique, however, in the hands-on experience they offer students. Each Career Institute campus features state-of-the-art equipment and industry experts, helping students obtain hands-on experience in their chosen industry pathway.

Currently, Dallas ISD’s Career Institutes serve just over 5,000 students. Enrollment is projected to surpass 15,000 by the 2029-2030 school year. As a result, Dallas ISD expects its already-impressive percentage of graduating seniors earning an industry-based certification, or IBC, to also improve. Just 3% of the class of 2020, or 243 students, earned an IBC. Three years later, 61% of the class of 2023, or 5,229 students, met this benchmark.

Oswaldo Alvarenga, Dallas ISD, discussing Career Institute North’s construction pathway with DRC members.
Jean Laswell, Director of Career Institute North, showing DRC members the campus’ auto shop.

“For too long, college and career readiness has been viewed as an ‘either/or,’ but it should be a ‘both/and,’” said Dr. Stephanie Elizalde, Superintendent of Dallas ISD. “Our Career Institutes, which allow students to pursue both an industry credential and credits that can stack toward a postsecondary degree, are a big step in the right direction.”

Career Institute North serves students from Conrad, Hillcrest, North Dallas, Thomas Jefferson, and W.T. White high schools and offers programs of study in 16 distinct industries. Industry pathways were selected based on projected supply, demand, and earnings using regional labor market data.

The Career Institute North campus resides in the former Walnut Hill Elementary School. Classrooms are filled with heavy machinery and equipment, from an aviation wing complete with flight simulators and drones to health science labs with hospital beds, dental chairs, and “smart” mannequins that can be programmed to exhibit symptoms.

Building the campus came with challenges. Compared to a typical school, Career Institute North is a much more complicated build, requiring different specifications for different rooms to ensure safety and alignment with industry standards. For example, the construction shop required specialty ventilation to mitigate sawdust accumulation from woodworking, and the windows above the welding classroom needed shades to protect potential onlookers from harmful light.

Industry experts have had a direct impact on Career Institute North. Dallas ISD consulted directly with practitioners on campus design and construction. In addition, many of the instructors at Career Institute North are also industry experts rather than classically trained educators to ensure that the curriculum is as up-to-date as possible with current industry practices. While Dallas ISD provides instructional coaching to these practitioners, many are already well-versed in teaching from managing teams in the field or through prior experience with apprenticeship programs, which are common in trade professions.

For more information about Dallas ISD’s Career Institutes, please contact the DRC Education and Workforce team at education@dallaschamber.org.