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Principal of P-TECH Leads Students Toward Both a Diploma and a Degree

By Rachel Holliday Smith | September 1, 2014 10:20am | Updated on September 2, 2014 8:46am
 Rashid Davis has been the principal of the Pathways in Technology Early College High School in Crown Heights since its creation in 2011.
P-TECH High School
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CROWN HEIGHTS — In a traditional school, September means teachers and students returning from a restful summer vacation.

But Principal Rashid Davis of the Pathways in Technology Early College High School, or P-TECH, didn’t get a summer off — and neither did the 100 students who made up the first class, now starting its fourth year at the city's first six-year high school.

The school, together with industry and university partners IBM and CUNY, combines college classes, technology training, real-world experience and traditional high school coursework to give every student both a diploma and an associates degree in applied science by the time they graduate. The goal is to give graduates the credentials they need for a head start on entry-level jobs in the technology and engineering sectors.

For example, P-TECH’s first class — now entering its fourth year — held paid internships this summer, some at IBM, as part of a curriculum designed to get them both “college-ready and career-ready,” Davis said.

The kids at P-TECH need lots of motivation to get through their long school year and longer school day  class starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 4 p.m., with an “enrichment” period that can last as late as 7:30 p.m.

Luckily, they have a dedicated cheerleader in Davis, who has worked in city public schools for 18 years, with much of that time spent working with young men of color at schools focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Before coming to P-TECH, he served as principal at the Bronx Engineering Technology Academy, which is made up of 85 percent male students. P-TECH’s male-to-female ratio is only slightly lower at 76 percent male, 24 percent female.

“The idea of taking a majority-male population of-color school and actually having high expectations and trying to give them the foundation to be prepared for college is something that I’m passionate about,” Davis said.

“STEM fields, particularly engineering, are white, male-dominated, and so the whole purpose of these small schools are to try to bring underrepresented populations into that reality and give them that foundation.”

P-TECH has become something of beacon for progressive school reform since former Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced its creation in 2010  and further still when President Barack Obama mentioned it in his State of the Union Speech and visited the school in 2013.

“We can’t even host all of the people who want to come see us,” Davis said in an interview at the Crown Heights high school in mid-June. Still, the attention is a good thing, he said, since he wants the school to “become a national model.” In addition, enrollment is up, with 1,500 applicants in 2013, up from 500 the year before, Davis said.

DNAinfo New York sat down with Davis to learn more about P-TECH, one of the most unique high schools in the city.

How does a student apply to P-TECH? Is it competitive?

Every eighth-grader has to complete an application process that includes 12 choices for a high school seat and our category is “unscreened,” which means you attend an information session just to express interest. We don’t do any type of testing and there isn’t any type of preferential treatment because you have high grades.

How was the curriculum at P-TECH developed?

New York College of Technology was identified as our college partner and IBM [the school’s corporate partner] gave them thousands of skills to say, "What makes sense based on these skills to make sure the post-secondary credential is matched to the skills that are needed?" Because when you look at a lot of the work [in college]… many students leave the post-secondary world without the skills needed [for the] industry.

What are the challenges students face when they enroll at P-TECH?

Because we’re unscreened, we have a wide range  a skills gap  and so we have to be able to use time and resources differently — a blended learning approach to meet students where they are so that way we can strengthen them, but also giving them the confidence that they can do it. When you look at primarily screened environments, students who are on a gifted and talented track have a different level of confidence... When you have students who are not used to that type of academic foundation and that independence, you have to teach those skills and give them the opportunity, through rigorous coursework, to be able to change their habits and behaviors so that way they can experience success early to be able to make those mind shifts to believe and see themselves as successful.

What does a first year at P-TECH look like?

The first year is a narrow focus. We spend more time — a lot more of the school day — on English and math. We don’t do social studies and science in year one because we have to make sure that the foundation is purely established so that we can have the majority of the school moving at the same time. That way, the peers then become the motivation for each other.

When a student chooses to come here, are they thinking they’re going to come out of it with a job, or are they not thinking that far ahead yet?

They’re 13- and 14-year-olds. They’ve got the same mindset as any 13- or 14-year-old in this city or across the country — it changes from day to day. But you have some students who are very much interested in computers because they take them apart. We have some students who design web pages. You have some people who are here because their guidance counselor selected us on the application. You have some parents who would never even look at us because we don’t have graduation data. And so, it really is a mixed bag of different students. Our first 100 students came from 95 different middle schools. You have a wide range of what they have been exposed to.