Ken Cadow of Norwich recognized for helping Randolph Union High School students thrive outside the traditional classroom.
Randolph Union High School’s Director of Career and Workforce Pathways, Ken Cadow, has been recognized by the New England Secondary School Consortium and the Vermont Agency of Education as the 2017 Champion of Education for Vermont.
Randolph Union High School co-principal Elijah Hawkes cited Cadow’s innovative "deployed classroom" model in partnership with Bethel's GW Plastics as an example of the work that earned Cadow the award. "Students are learning on the floor and in the conference room of this important high tech manufacturing company," said Hawkes.
“Building on this success,” continued Hawkes, “RU is offering a second deployed classroom this semester called ‘Water Management,’ which includes field work with experts in civil engineering, waste treatment, transportation, forestry and farming. The idea is to align learning in the field with learning in the classroom, embracing various topics and concepts in math, science and social studies. It’s also aligned to building habits of a strong work ethic.”
“This is an outstanding accomplishment,” said Supt. Brent Kay, “and it recognizes the tireless work Ken has done with regional economic councils, career and technical education centers, colleges and universities, local entrepreneurs, and business leaders to create meaningful work-based learning and exposure for our students."
Cadow's work also earns high marks outside the educational establishment. Bob Haynes of the Green Mountain Development Cooperation praised Cadow for helping local teens develop the skills needed to transition from student to skilled worker. Haynes said Cadow's work benefits Vermont employers, too, as it is costly to recruit outside Vermont when they can't find skilled, young Vermonters.
Cathy Tempesta, the human resources director at GW Plastics, witnessed students benefiting from their time at the Bethel plant.
"Ken has worked with me for the past four years developing and conducting our School of Tech program," said Tempesta. "He’s been a tireless advocate for the students who haven’t thrived in the traditional classroom setting. I think it’s been Ken’s vision all along that there are a significant number of kids that, without an alternative approach to learning, will fall by the wayside - and each semester, I’ve witnessed the light bulbs go off in student’s eyes as they’ve discovered the practical applications of the math and science that they found boring in school. He’s definitely someone who has made a difference in kids’ lives!"
Cadow came to his current post after melding personal observations from earlier jobs—owning a grocery business that employed a couple dozen teens and a teaching stint at Thetford Academy. It was at Thetford that Cadow first had the insight that started him on the path that eventually won him the award. Cadow realized that "the drive to ensure students graduated with a smattering of proficiency in everything could really get in the way of students being able to use school to find out what it was they did well, and what they wanted to do with their lives."
The Observer asked Cadow how he channeled this observation into a successful partnership between education and commerce.
The Observer: What is the thinking behind your current work?
Cadow: Three or four years ago, I was serving on the Economic Development Strategy Committee for East Central Vermont, and I was struck by the fact that in the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats Analysis of this region, our Career Tech Ed centers were listed on the “Strengths” side, while public schools in general were listed soundly on the downside. This should alarm the heck out of public school administrators, policy makers, and teachers who value public education and their profession. Economic developers direct the flow of huge sums of funding, and they will invest that money where they perceive that it will do the best work. Schools need to change their approach.
The Observer: How should schools change?
Cadow: It’s not that schools should want to produce worker-bees, the goal should be to help students gain a clear sense of how their strengths and interests can come into play in terms of a career, and how all subjects are assets for people who want to perform at their very best. It is vital to our economy and to our education system that economic strategists, employers, policy makers, and educators all sit at the same tables and recognize our common goals while still allowing for student freedom.
The Observer: Can you describe the service you provide for students?
The service I try to provide to students is to make a stronger connection between what we teach in school, which can seem so removed from the working world, and what they will be stepping into when they graduate. Unfortunately, when we don’t build in relevance and utility to what we are teaching —whether it is math, English, science—we lose the buy-in of a significant chunk of our students. I try to create programs that offer meaningful and extended exposure to the world beyond the classroom walls, while making the strongest possible connection between school subjects and how those disciplines come into play.
The Observer: How is this done?
Cadow: The deployed classroom model that I’ve been working on is intended to enable kids ages 14 through high school to apply school subjects and standards to a variety of fields of work. It is effectively a series of field trips to worksites where certain standards, such as math modeling, or engineering design, or artistic expression, are pertinent to the field of work. Credit is awarded by a teacher certified in the area of expertise that relates to a standard. A deployed class is available to all students in the school. Because students can meet core subject requirements through it students for whom the math class, say, isn’t working, can try their hand at applied math instead. It would take more than all my fingers and toes to count the number of people in the manufacturing industry who told me, “I didn’t know I was any good at math until I had to use it.” I’ve seen students who were failing “algebraic concepts” figure out complex problems simply because these problems involved concrete objects in front of them on a toolmaker’s bench.
The Observer: GW Plastics seems really pleased with the outcomes in the "School of Tech" program. Do you want to offer an educational perspective on measuring success?
Cadow: The high school course that incorporates GW’s School of Tech is called “An Introduction to Entrepreneurship and Manufacturing.” We head to the plant twice per week, and spend three days per week at school, front-loading concepts that the kids will be seeing on the floor, and also broadening their experience from the plant to more general business principles. The essential question that frames the course is “How does an organization take an idea and turn it into a marketable, profitable, consistently reproducible product?”
Answering this question piques the interests of more than just the machinists among us. The students see the roles of English and communication played out in marketing and human resources. They see the role of math in the engineering side of things and also in the financials. They see the role of materials science, chemistry, and physics. They develop a strong sense of why it is important to be able to express yourself clearly, as they witness teams working together to analyze and problem-solve. They have a strong sense —because we build it into the course— of how state and federal policies affect a business’s ability to invest in itself. We also build in the relevance of social studies. Most importantly, they have a sustained exposure to a workplace environment where people of different skills and educational backgrounds work together to get something done. This is something we don’t do enough of in our schools, as if the utility of learning somehow dirties the ivory tower.
The Observer: Manufacturing jobs have taken a beating in the last few decades, what do you tell skeptical parents?
Cadow: The manufacturing of McDonald’s Happy Meals toys is something we can happily send on to distant countries. Manufacturing, as done in the US, may be redefining itself, but I don’t think it is going away. The first thing that skeptical parents, career counselors, and even physics teachers can benefit from is an update on the concept of manufacturing. The Vermont jobs reports may say that there aren’t a ton of jobs being filled in manufacturing, but human resources directors in the same industry say something very different—they are having trouble filling their job postings. If you can’t fill the job, you can’t report to the Department of Labor that you’re employing someone in it. The missing link here is education. What are we doing in our high schools to show our students that learning these skills could lead them to a lifelong career?
I make it very clear to everyone, though, that I am not a recruiter for manufacturing. My role is to align the work and learning that students do in areas outside of school to graduation standards, and to set up systems and agreements for rigorous assessment by qualified people within the school. This can’t happen without a de-siloing of the education profession.
The Observer: Do you have an elevator pitch for a student who is undecided between college and career training?
I steer away from influencing that student’s decision altogether! My ideal would be that our future workforce would be enrolled in a system where that kind of decision was absolutely unnecessary. Vermont should be a leader in this approach, and I’m happy to report that I think many folks presently Agency of Ed would agree. I think the false dichotomy we have created nationally between Career Tech Ed and academics leads to a destructive class snobbery that has gone so far as to manifest itself in national elections. I am certified both as an English teacher and a principal of a traditional high school, but I value working with my hands as much as I value getting lost in a long piece in the New Yorker magazine.
The immediate answer to your question, though, is that I will work with kids to work the system so that their education will play to their strengths, their interests. I’m lucky enough to be in a school district where, if a health services student at the tech center wants to take AP Biology, we’ll work to make that happen. This approach just isn’t possible in all school districts. The flip, of trying to place a high school student who is interested in physics into, say, five hours a week in an auto shop, is more difficult. Those problems stem, in part, from funding requirements that originate at the federal level.
See how Cadow's methods influenced one student in the video below.