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EDUCATION–Tech Leaders Look to Charter School to Fill Demands

Education: Nontraditional Campus to Open This Fall

San Diego’s biotech and high-tech industry leaders are banking on High Tech High, a science-focused charter school opening this fall, to fill its future work force needs.

By 2010, the nation’s biotech sector is expected to demand 1 million workers, said Larry Fitch, president and CEO of the San Diego Workforce Partnership Inc. during a Feb. 23 Biocom breakfast meeting in La Jolla.

Both the high-tech and biotech sectors are finding it difficult to fill their employment needs.

The most widely used program is the H1-B visa, which high-tech companies use to hire foreign computer programmers and engineers. The workers can stay for up to six years.

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But worker demand has outstripped government restrictions on H1-B, exacerbating the companies’ plight.

In San Diego, 6.5 percent of the county’s total biotech work force are temporary residents. In the local high-tech sector, the numbers of foreign workers on H1-B visas rises to between 10 and 12 percent, said Fitch, who cited an SDSU study.

The problem is that many local students aren’t aware of the high-tech and biotech career opportunities in San Diego, or they show no interest in pursuing jobs in these fields.


A survey of 400 local high school students showed only 25 percent knew that San Diego offered so many job opportunities in these sectors; 7 percent said they had no interest in said Joseph Panetta, Biocom’s CEO.

Qualcomm committed $100,000 to the charter school over the next five years, he said.

And, he added, Alliance Pharmaceutical Corp.’s Roth brothers committed $10,000 over the next five years.

Jerry Caulder, CEO of the agricultural biotech firm Akkadix in San Diego, pleaded with the audience to generate more dollars to build the lab.

He admitted his plea was motivated by “selfish reasons,” namely to foster groups of people who make decisions based on facts, not emotions.

Caulder alluded to the refusal of some consumers to buy foods made from genetically modified (GMO) crops, which he says is based on emotions, not scientific facts.

Anti-GMO groups argue scientists have yet to prove bio-engineered foods are safe for a person’s long-term health and the environment.

High Tech High students will receive vigorous training in math and the sciences, Rosenstock said. But much weight will also be placed on literacy and the humanities, he added.

The school will recruit 200 students for grades nine through 12. High Tech High will be open year-round and provide lectures from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., he said.

Rosenstock said he hired 12 teachers, some of whom came from local schools, others from the industry.

“Every faculty member is trained as a writing teacher,” Rosenstock said. “Students will do a lot of reading and writing and independent study.”

While the curriculum is still being planned in a joint effort with faculty and industry leaders, Rosenstock promises the school will set itself apart from other high schools.

“American high schools are an assembly line of education,” Rosenstock said.

At High Tech High, class lectures and work force experience will be equally critical in educating students.

Juniors and seniors will complete one-year internships at local companies while studying in school, he said.

At school the students will be working on real-life projects from the industrial world and focus more on independent research projects than homework, he said.

Added Gary E. Jacobs, manager at Jacobs Investment Company LLC and High Tech High’s chairman, groups of five teachers are going to accompany some 20 students throughout high school. Regular tutoring and annual visits to the students’ home is also part of the program, he said.

As a charter school, High Tech High doesn’t have to follow the same education codes traditional schools must follow, Rosenstock said. This allows for experimentation, he said.

Students are educated to meet the admission standards of the UC-system, he said.

Rosenstock said the school has no agreement with local industry members for a certain number of students to be placed at their companies upon graduation.

He also said while the curriculum will be influenced by High Tech High sponsors, it won’t be dictated by their agenda.

Others, however, wonder if bringing the self-interest of corporate sponsors into the public education system is the answer.

“If it’s true that California high schools are inadequate providers of education, is corporate sponsorship an answer to the problem?” said Dan Schiller, a UCSD professor in the Department of Communication.

No it isn’t, he added.

“It lets the fox into the chicken coop by confusing education with corporate sponsorship and marketing,” he said.

Schiller said a more appropriate answer may be for California high schools to receive more educational techniques and public funding.

As a public high school, High Tech High will receive public funding, he said.

Fitch said the San Diego Workforce Partnership Inc., which provides regional job training to students, will funnel $1.2 million to High Tech High over the next five years.

The money is part of a $7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, he said.

A second High Tech High is planned for Silicon Valley, Rosenstock said. Other schools may follow in Boston, Seattle and the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.


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