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Staff Spotlight: CTE Specialist

Staff Spotlight: CTE (Career and Technical Education) Specialist

There are many people, at every level throughout 27J, who help students achieve and thrive in and out of the classroom. For this staff spotlight, we asked a few questions* of one of those persons: 27J CTE Specialist Cristina Sanchez Serrano, who came to 27J from Denver Public Schools.

27J: As a new 27J employee, what made you want to bring your expertise to 27J? What is it about this district that inspires you in your work? cristina sanchez serrano

CS: I wanted to pursue an opportunity more focused on CTE. 27J offered me the opportunity to design their future Career and College Centers and I could not say no to his amazing opportunity to provide our students with more options to be career and college ready and work in a district that puts students first with such an outstanding nurturing community.

27J: What does your position as CTE Specialist entail?

CS: My job is leading the planning of 27J Schools Career and Technical Education efforts and, specifically, the future capital needs for the Career and College centers I am designing. I also act as a resource and liaison to all district administrators on CTE, post-secondary and workforce readiness, graduation requirements, instruction and other areas, as appropriate.

27J: As your familiarizing yourself with 27J's CTE programs and visiting classrooms, what are some of the things you're doing and that you've learned?

CS: I have surveyed all secondary and some elementary students to collect their input on their future careers.

Regarding parent and community input, I am having monthly parent meetings to ask them for their input on the centers and to inform them about the new graduation requirements that will affect current Juniors next year.

Finally, I started meeting with industry and technical and community colleges to obtain work-based learning opportunities (exploration events, internships, apprenticeships) for students.

I am really impressed by 27J for their focus on demonstration of learning through industry certifications, which is not very common. That is not happening in all districts in Colorado despite the fact that it is one of the ways to demonstrate learning under the new, state graduation requirements.

27J: Tell us a little about your background. What were you doing before coming to 27J?

CS: I am originally from Madrid, Spain, and I came to the USA 11 years ago with my government to teach English as a Second Language in a high school in Charlotte, North Carolina. After 4 years there, I moved to Denver to implement the English Language Acquisition program at John F Kennedy High School in Denver Public Schools. I was a teacher there for three years, a coach for one year and then an Assistant Principal and CTE Director for the last 3 years.

27J: How has your professional experience dealt directly with CTE programs?

CS: For the last three years, I was the CTE Director at John F Kennedy High School. I led the Business, Engineering, Creative and Med programs and their work-based learning experiences (exploration, internships, mentorship and apprenticeships) as well as the career program for our students with severe disabilities (ACE).
I was extremely lucky to be able to lead the CTE programs with the lens of equity so that ALL our students could apply their learning and be workforce ready while in high school.

27J: A lot of the discussion around CTE programs is how they equip students with skills employers are looking for. Is connecting the programs we offer to those skills part of your work?
CS: Yes, part of my job is conducting a research study on the jobs of the future and the industry certifications that these jobs  require so that high school students can have access to them immediately after high school or during, in some cases, during their senior year.

27J: What are immediate and future employment trends you are seeing in your research or elsewhere?

CS: The occupations with the most job growth currently are medical secretaries, market research analysts and marketing specialists. The fastest growth occupations by 2026 will be solar photovoltaic installers, wind turbine service technicians, software engineers, and home health and personal care aids. 

27J: How can we best prepare our students to be successful in their chosen career?

CS: The best way to prepare students for their chosen career is to teach them skills like flexibility, resilience, collaboration and a non-stop, learning mindset. It is key for us, as educators, to make sure that we provide our students with opportunities to apply what they learn in the real world and see its usefulness.

Students need to know the "why" and the "what for" of their learning. It is also essential that we continue to provide exploration opportunities in elementary schools, mentorships in middle school and early high school, and internships and apprenticeships in high school. Students needs to name, see and do their career of interest while in high school.

*Some answers may have been lightly edited for clarity or brevity.