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Winter 2004/2005
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High School Students in Jefferson County, Kentucky, Help Resolve Workforce Issues With GIS

By Dr. Sheree P. Koppel, Specialist, School-to-Career Initiatives, Jefferson County Public Schools, and Paul Weis, Business Liaison, The Community @ eMain

  click to enlarge
This map, which was created by a high school GIS student, reflects the elevation changes at Iroquois Park in Louisville, Kentucky, in one-dimension and a hillshade effect. Louisville/ Jefferson County Information Consortium provided all of the data.

Factor No. 1: Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) District, located in Louisville, Kentucky, serves approximately 96,000 urban, suburban, and semirural students daily in 156 schools, 21 of which are comprehensive high schools offering career and technical career major programs as electives.

Factor No. 2: The availability of an appropriately trained workforce has become an increasingly problematic issue in recent years for many industries, and the field of GIS is no exception.

Solution: In March 2000, businesses and educators in Louisville, Kentucky, established the Jefferson County Public Schools Geographic Information Systems Career Major Program within four high schools—Central, Doss, Eastern, and Jeffersontown.

Making It Happen

Audwin Helton, president and owner of Spatial Data Integrations, a full service GIS firm and Esri Business Partner, had difficulty finding a sufficient number of adequately trained employees with the necessary GIS skills to fill positions in his company. Helton says, "My vision for the high school GIS program was to get young students excited about geotechnology and to inspire them to seek additional GIS training in our local universities."

Helton and Diane Porter, director of School-to-Career Initiatives for JCPS, envisioned a four-year GIS program for high school students. Included in this vision was a connection with the GIS program offered at the University of Louisville. With the high schools introducing students to the field of GIS and computer mapping, the university could potentially increase the output of both GIS professionals and technicians.

Porter says, "The district was honored and challenged when Mr. Helton asked us to consider incorporating GIS into the curriculum. The program has grown and been successful because we continue to utilize our planning committee, which consists of educators from JCPS and the University of Louisville and business partners, to plan and implement next steps for student improvement. Working together, we have established a model we are extremely proud of."

Classroom teachers must be deeply involved in the development of any new career major program if it is to be a strong, responsive effort. Therefore, after completing a week of intense professional development through the University of Louisville, participating teachers designed the sequence of courses for the program and the content of each course.

Initially, the Kentucky Office of School-to-Work provided a seed grant of $22,000 for GIS program development and teacher training. These dollars were coupled with donated funds obtained from area business partners for computer hardware, plotters, servers, and handheld GPS units. Bob Forbes, associate director of the University of Louisville Center for Geographic Studies, has provided the vital university partnership for the program and served as the professional development resource for high school teachers. During the first year of program implementation, Forbes team-taught the high school courses and continues to visit classrooms regularly.

Additionally, the JCPS Geographic Information Systems Career Major Program partnered with Esri from the program's inception. In the first year of the program, Esri provided ArcView textbooks for the pilot course. Currently, both students and staff access Esri course work online. As a result of these partnership efforts, JCPS now has approximately 150 high school students enrolled in GIS programs in the four high schools.

Community Projects

Currently, the GIS instructors are developing long- and short-term interdisciplinary community-based projects through which students can apply new learning. Examples of such projects occurring at each school include

  • Central High School works with the JCPS Office of Security and Investigations to map crimes that take place in areas surrounding schools in the district.
  • Eastern High School created interactive GIS exhibits for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commemoration that took place in Louisville in October 2003.
  • Jeffersontown High School creates crime analysis maps in collaboration with the Jeffersontown Police Department.

"These projects," says Scot Horan, a teacher at Eastern High School, "solidly ground GIS instruction in knowledge work, allowing students to experience education with one foot in school, one in the real world."

School Administrative Uses of GIS

In concurrence with this developing employer/educator partnership, JCPS increased the administrative uses of GIS and Esri software for enrollment planning, transportation planning, and data analysis. Dr. David Wicks, director of Environmental Studies for JCPS, helped the partnership realize the connection between the JCPS administrative uses of GIS, local business needs for skilled employees, and the school district's unique capacity for preparing students for roles as skilled professionals. Now, almost three years following program implementation, JCPS has a model to share with potential for replication or adaptation in other school districts or communities with similar needs for a more skilled workforce.

This model depends on strong business support, a solid university partnership, external funding opportunities, the commitment of the local Chamber of Commerce, teacher involvement in all phases of planning and implementation, and administrative support and guidance, as well as the support of the JCPS planning committee.

While the teachers have built and expanded a solid curriculum, strong administrative support ensures the continued development and funding of this technical career pathway program. The JCPS Office of School-to-Career Initiatives provides the leadership, staff support, guidance, and funding support for this unique partnership.

Approval and Honors

Through the efforts of the office's curriculum specialist, the program was approved as a career major program by the Kentucky State Department of Education in October 2001. Accessing existing funding opportunities and seeking new funding avenues, the School-to-Career Initiatives staff ensure that each school program has the best available technology and that teachers receive the most current professional development. The office's coordination of business outreach and solicitation has enabled the program to gain support from more than 30 businesses throughout the state. These efforts have resulted in contributions of money, staff time, professional expertise, and real-world experiences for students. Through continued outreach efforts to recruit new businesses and further develop existing relationships, students have opportunities to learn about the career pathways available to them and the relevance of GIS in a variety of complex business environments.

In addition, all partners felt an enormous sense of accomplishment when, in 2002, Esri awarded JCPS a Special Achievement in GIS Award, the first ever to be awarded to a school system. However, the true reward of the program will be realized when a steady stream of students are matriculating in GIS programs throughout the region and moving on to fill significant positions in the field.

Coming Up

What is next for the JCPS GIS Career Major Program? JCPS is welcoming a fifth school to offer the program in the fall of 2004, assuring program expansion. Wicks provides insight into future plans when he says, "The JCPS GIS model has been successful in creating a real career pathway, but where we need to work now is with the integration of GIS across academic disciplines." The GIS adventure continues!

To learn more about the GIS model and the partnerships that support it, contact Linda Neal, Greater Louisville Inc. (tel.: 502-625-0089). To obtain copies of the JCPS GIS Career Major Program curriculum approved by the Kentucky Department of Education as a career and technical program, contact Dr. Sheree P. Koppel, specialist, School-to-Career Initiatives, Jefferson County Public Schools (tel.: 502-485-3122).

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