Comments to Joint Legislative Committee
Below are my comments to the joint committee on Education. I had to abridge these for the three-minute speaking limit at the committee level, but these were provided to the senators and representatives in full.
Education Committee Testimony
Michael D. Rubin
Uxbridge High School
Good Morning, Chair Peisch, Chair Lewis, and Honorable Members of the Committee. It is a privilege to have been asked to speak here today as the principal of Uxbridge High School and, humbly, as one of the leaders of the Innovation Pathway movement. I am joined by our superintendent of Schools, Dr. Frank Tiano, who in his year with us together at UHS has seen the transformative purpose of the Innovation Pathway and its power in providing high quality academic outcomes while building the technical acumen of students in preparation for a world that is rapidly evolving and in need of skilled citizens.
By way of a brief history and context, last year Uxbridge became one of the first four schools in the Commonwealth to earn the distinction of being an Innovation Pathway school, with a focus on Advanced Manufacturing. In sum, our students are exposed to a technical course sequence, academic courses that earn college credit, a comprehensive advising curriculum, and, most significantly, opportunities to learn in collaboration with industry sector. Through robust partnerships with engineering companies in the Blackstone Valley such as Lenze America, Lampin Corporation, and Precision Engineering, all of whom are located in Uxbridge, we adapt our curricular outcomes to ensure we can best fill skills gaps while providing technical opportunities for students who desire career and technical education contexts and content. A document we have shared demonstrates our Pathway.
We deliberately use the word transformative to describe the results. With buy-in from students and families due to the relevance and authenticity of the work being done, with consistent language integrated across traditional academic classrooms, and with counselors able to focus planning for students as early as grade 7 and 8 around students’ individual learning goals and needs, we see a palpable enthusiasm that has shifted the culture of learning and helped us drive outcomes across multiple disciplines, with buy-in from an entire staff and community. Additionally, our school is expanding beyond advanced manufacturing into biomedical science and digital media. To give you a sense of numbers, we currently have about 120 students in grades 8-12 enrolled in our engineering program, which is up from 40 just two years ago; another 70 students are taking biomedical classes, more than 100 students are enrolled in digital media and design courses, all programs that did not exist in their current form less than one year ago. Our students love these experiences, from the projects they complete in class to the way teachers and students interact with professionals. We see this in the numbers: dropout rates have declined, performance has improved, and student metrics for learning are on the rise.
From the perspective of partnering with local industry, the once gossamer connection between public schools and the needs of industry has become tethered strongly, in particular due to our unique alliance with the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce. Our conversations focus on leveraging schools as potential training centers for the workforce of tomorrow, while providing students with not only the technical skills needed for the industry sectors of focus, like precision measuring, laser engraving, design, and modeling, but also soft skills like communication, collaboration, perseverance, and problem solving.
Given the demand and joint commitments of communities, industry, Governor Baker’s Workforce Skills Cabinet, and Innovation Pathway schools, we can assure you as legislators that the funding increase to our foundation will be purposefully integrated and will thus support a number of initiatives concurrently. The investment, for us, serves to support consumable supplies, infrastructure, industry-standard equipment, and professional development for educators. We have, through thoughtful deliberation with Central Office and with the support of our School Committee, revised our budgets to prioritize these expenditures, and we have leveraged philanthropy, industry sector partnerships, and grant opportunities. However, the sustaining of these programs will require additional support that balances Pathway needs with program costs. The added need of sustaining these newly-minted opportunities warrants, at minimum, the proposed increase to per pupil funding for Innovation Pathway students.
For our constituents and town committees, the investment demonstrates our shared commitment to these truly unique opportunities. In Uxbridge, and in other small communities across the Commonwealth, program survival should never be at the complete whim of budgetary discretion and demand the support of our legislators beyond philosophical approval and acclaim.
In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, “Innovation is applied creativity, about introducing something new, or improved, and it usually assumed to be a positive thing.” In that spirit, we are very proud of what our Innovation Pathway program has done for our school and region, and are committed to its continued success. We are grateful for our partnerships with the Departments of Labor, Economic Development and Education and how they have engaged industry and higher education. We thank you for the opportunity to share our successes and needs of Innovation Pathways programs statewide. We are happy to answer any questions you may have, and wish you well and good luck in your deliberations.
March 22, 2019