An Education for LIFE
A Look at Paducah Public Schools’ Coming Innovation Hub
“The five most important competencies or skills that are needed in this economy are problem-solving; good intelligence, which is seeing patterns and trends; being innovative; working as a team; and communicating.” Dr. Donald Shively, superintendent of Paducah Public Schools, reflects on some of the data that led he and the school board to rethink the approach of public education.
ETS, the parent company for the college readiness exam ACT, analyzed findings from the U.S. Department of Labor to help uncover the core needs of a quickly changing U.S. workforce. “Our second student learning goal was written around that,” adds Dr. Shively. “Obviously we want our students to do well on the ACT—that’s college entrance and scholarships—but it is really about how we take that and apply it. And how do we help students build a vision for their lives? At some point, we got lost as educators. It’s not just about test scores and seeing them as numbers. We have public education to create a talented, educated workforce—people who are intrinsically motivated in what they do.”
In addition to discovering what is needed nationally, Paducah Public Schools also connected with industry around Paducah. “We call that Engage Paducah,” says Dr. Shively. We asked how do we have our students engage Paducah, go into the workforce, and work in Paducah by design? How do we approach this as a community? We have a tremendous amount of talent here. So what’s the return on that investment?”
The research and local engagement led Paducah Public Schools to pursue new potentials in education. One result is the upcoming Innovation Hub. The Hub, a $16M state-of-the-art technology center, will be a place where students of all ages and community members can access and connect to industry skills. “We went to Paducah Economic Development, and they helped us discover the local workforce clusters that we needed to be in line with,” says Dr. Shively. “We want to meet the needs of every child and develop their talents while supporting Paducah’s needs. So we redesigned our curriculum. We took a look at our Area Technology Center and other curriculum pathways that connected with what they were doing over there.”
It was evident that educational paths such as welding, carpentry, and healthcare services had changed over the years. Technology and innovation had broadened the possibilities of these and other career fields, and the convergence of knowledge bases necessitated a more broad approach in education. The Innovation Hub will not only be a place to connect students to specific fields—it will be a place to explore multiple facets of skills, giving students the opportunity and freedom to explore their own paths of discovery.
“In the Innovation Hub, engineering will be across the hall from welding and carpentry, for example,” says Dr. Shively. “The students will better see connections. And that’s just one example. We’ll have health science, robotics, and computer-aided design close to IT. Logistics can be tied into our Naval ROTC. And art is being brought into this as well. If you are going to be a sculptor, for example, you need skills that support that. We looked at the commonalities among those pathways and realized that the Hub will help fuel creativity and learning.” Additionally, the Innovation Hub will house a maker space where tools will be available, and students can explore and apply what they’ve learned, creating their own solutions and innovations.
And, as students explore, they will have the opportunity to earn dual high school/college credits. One aim is to make them ready for college with many already having achieved credits. Another aim to make others ready for the workforce. Built within that is the students’ ability to take their time, unearthing their natural abilities and talents in a stress-free environment. “Students will figure out what they like to do—and what they don’t like to do,” adds Dr. Shively. “That’s valuable.”
Paducah Public Schools and the coming Innovation Hub also works with local industry leaders, highlighting the ties between education and “the real world.” Part of the nursing program is conducted at Baptist Health where students gain experience doing everything from working on the floors to observing surgeries. Those kind of experiences took the number of Tilghman students in that program from nine to 50 in just a few years. “The same thing is happening in welding,” says Dr. Shively. “We work with Paducah Barge, and they’ll bring a barge to our students to fix and sell. And they donate the proceeds back to our welding program. We’ve also had students go out and do internships with them. And as a result, we’ve even made some curriculum changes to reflect their needs. And we’ve also worked with CSI to identify their educational requirements and offer dual credits that lead into those degrees. That’s blending high school into college.” And Dr. Shively anticipates more community connections as the Hub evolves as well as more ways to blend education from elementary school on up.
Once the Innovation Hub is complete, the possibilities will be nearly endless and open-ended. For example, as the school planned for a small coffee shop in the lobby, teachable moments arose. “We worked with Etcetra to get their input on how to design it,” says Dr. Shively, “and it turned into an opportunity to take our business classes and talk about how to run it. And there can even be a connection to our foods and nutrition pathways.
“These real-world experiences are exciting. In the end, it’s not about test scores. It’s about the students hitting the ground running with our local postsecondary schools, businesses, and industries. It is about making this a better community.”