Austin American-Statesman covers IDEA Austin’s plans to establish nation’s first dedicated Pre-K through 12th health professions school

More big news for our client IDEA Public Schools Austin: they will have the first K-12 health professions school not just in Texas, but in the nation. Like all of IDEA’s schools, IDEA Comprehensive Health Professions will be free, open-enrollment by lottery, and will offer a college preparatory program. Read the Austin American-Statesman’s story by education reporter Melissa Taboda below, or click here.

Austin is the biggest city in Texas that lacks a school dedicated to preparing young students for careers in health care, but that could change as soon as 2018.

Within two years, IDEA Austin plans to launch a K-12 school that will offer students a pre-college program for careers in science and medicine. The Austin school district also has explored creating a medical magnet high school, but has no concrete plans after voters rejected a 2013 bond measure that would have provided $12 million for the program.

IDEA says it will choose a site as early as the end of this year, with hopes of locating in Central Austin near a hub of medical facilities to provide high school juniors and seniors easy access to internships. Construction is slated to begin next year.

Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and El Paso all have established schools dedicated to health care education.

“The students of Austin deserve to have that opportunity as well,” said Larkin Tackett, IDEA Austin’s executive director.

For years, a group of parents and community members have petitioned the Austin district, elected officials, university leaders and medical institutions to work on establishing a health professions school.

“I’m glad someone is taking the steps to address the needs of the community,” said parent Isabel López Aguilar, who has been disappointed with the effort by the Austin district and other entities that she feels should have already worked together to create a program. “It’s kind of concerning that we’ve been asking for this for so long and haven’t heard anything from our public education system with concrete plans.”

López Aguilar said the city needs to grow students into health care providers who have cultural and linguistic competency. She said there should be multiple pathways for Austin-area students to attend the Dell Medical School.

“What I wouldn’t like is to have just the one pipeline,” she said.

Tackett said he believes the IDEA health school will be the first K-12 health professions school in the country, focusing on advanced STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in the primary grades, and a college preparatory program offering health care internships to juniors and seniors.

“We’ll be starting them very young to develop the skills to use science and data, and also to develop the empathy needed in health professions,” Tackett said. “It’s critical to foster an interest in health professions from a young age and encourage students’ career explorations in these areas.”

Tackett said IDEA’s school will be comprehensive, designed to train not only future physicians, nurses and mental health professionals, but also public policy leaders with the background to delve into health issues, for example.

IDEA leaders estimate they will need about $5 million in philanthropic donations for the school’s startup costs. Earlier this year, IDEA announced a $16 million gift from the KLE Foundation, which will allow the charter school to aggressively expand its footprint in Austin.

Austin school district leaders for years have discussed starting a medical magnet, with plans that envisioned high school juniors and seniors in two-month rotations studying sports medicine, dentistry and biomedical engineering, learning firsthand from physicians.

IDEA’s announcement could prompt the Austin district to speed up launching a health professions program, as local charter schools in recent years have chipped away at the school district’s enrollment and put the Austin district on the defensive as it fights to keep students and promotes existing programs.

The district, which is considering calling for a 2017 bond election, could include startup money as part of that package, but could also forge partnerships to begin programs sooner without one.

“It’s my intent that we consider a range of partnerships with the Dell Medical School, and that could include a medically-themed health science school to developing community schools that include health education,” said Kendall Pace, the Austin district’s school board president.

Dr. Reginald “Reg” Baptiste, director of pre-health professions for the Dell Medical School at the University of Texas, said the Dell Medical School is interested in expanding the pipeline of physicians and health professionals by helping more local students prepare to apply for medical school or work in health-related professions, but the school doesn’t have “any kind of partnership regarding a health-focused campus.” Medical school leaders are in ongoing conversations with Austin district officials, and have also talked with IDEA, he said.

“We want to support any proposal that would benefit the community, and we will be a resource for anyone whose mission aligns with ours,” Baptiste said.

Baptiste is among the scheduled speakers, joining 30 community leaders and educators, at an IDEA-sponsored forum next week to help charter school officials think through the design of the planned campus.

The first dedicated pre-K through 12th grade comprehensive health professions public charter school in the country and first dedicated health professions secondary school in Austin will be established by IDEA Public Schools Austin, and is slated to open in 2018.


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