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State Approves Colorado Springs District's Innovation Zone

The Colorado State Board of Education approved an innovation zone to accommodate the Colorado Springs School of Technology, with planned courses in cybersecurity, AI, apps and games, robotics and computers.

Aerial vew of Colorado Springs, Colo., at dusk.
Colorado Springs, Colo., at Dusk
Shutterstock/Jacob Boomsma
(TNS) — The Colorado Springs School of Technology is one step closer to opening next school year.

The Colorado State Board of Education on Thursday unanimously approved the creation of a planned innovation zone for Colorado Springs School District 11. The Colorado Springs School of Technology is anticipated to be open to students for the 2024-25 school year.

The vote comes after the D-11 board of education approved the application for the innovation zone in February.

"It's a very innovative application, very well thought out," board of education member Debora Scheffel said. "It's exactly what we need to be doing, which is partnering with business, education (and) local businesses to make this happen."

In its first year, the school will provide students in the ninth and 10th grades curriculum focused on space leadership, applied cyberscience, ethics and entrepreneurship to prepare for careers in aerospace, defense, cybersecurity, information technology and space technology fields.

Initial course offerings listed in the innovation zone's application included cybersecurity, AI, apps and games, aerospace, engineering and robotics (AER), computers and systems AP computer science in addition to required courses.

In an approach to establish and gradually grow its student body along with funding and course offerings, the district plans to expand to grades 6-8 by the second or third year of operation as well as 11th and 12th grades in the following years.

D-11 Superintendent Michael Gaal told the board that the proposal is part of the district's academic master plan which includes expanding academic and career pathway opportunities for its students as Colorado Springs' population continues to grow.

"The Colorado Springs School of Technology is built on that premise of, 'How do we accelerate opportunity and outcomes for students in space, in cyber, entrepreneurial?' and using this as a value-space opportunity for our students," Gaal said.

The zone plans to partner with the University of Colorado Colorado Springs Cybersecurity and Research Center and the National Cybersecurity Center off North Nevada Avenue to allow industry professionals to instruct students on-location along with licensed educators. It would also allow students to earn dual enrollment credits at UCCS and Pike Peak State College, internships and certifications through the classwork.

The innovation zone would operate under an alternative governance structure to include a board composed of community leaders who represent the school's focus areas.

Local leaders who have already symbolically signed to serve on the board include Gaal, Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC President and CEO Johnna Reeder Kleymeyer, UCCS Chancelor Jennifer Sobanet, Pikes Peak State College President Lance Bolton, National Cybersecurity Center CEO Harry Raduege and Col. Judson Dressler with the Air Force Academy's Department of Computer and Cyber Sciences.

Gaal said that in addition to offering specialized education and opportunities to students, the innovation zone would help local employers fill workforce gaps they're experiencing along with helping industry professionals fill some of the district's current teaching needs.

"I don't think that School District 11 is unique in having that workforce gap that I have identified, but what I think what we can be unique about is actually bringing the power of the city and local economy to that board," he said.

Steve Durham, state education board representative for Colorado Springs, noted the broad community and bi-partisan support already behind the innovation zone. Durham said was impressed with ideas in the application, including proposals like merit-based pay and at-will contracts for teachers.

He added that this could provide a solution to trends the city has been facing for decades.

"I remember when I grew up in Colorado Springs, most of the kids had to leave Colorado Springs to find well-paying jobs," he said. "And it would be nice if we could train our children and educate our children for jobs that already exist in Colorado Springs that are extremely desirable and high paying."

Colorado currently has 10 innovation zones in operation, including the Power Zone in El Paso County's School District 49.

©2024 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.