Colorado to Have Revolutionary Automotive Charter School
The automotive industry’s newest charter school is set to open up in Colorado Springs, Colo., by 2020. The school, partnered up with Falcon School District, was dreamt up by three men in the industry who all share the same dream: take down the technician shortage.
Shop owner Greg Bunch, owner of Aspen Auto Clinic in Colorado, and automotive tech teacher Anthony Williams formed a friendship after they both participated in a televised project where a handful of schools had automotive students race to build an engine. At the time, Williams was teaching automotive skills to a low-income school district where it was common for students to come from broken homes.
Bunch learned that Williams hoped to expand his knowledge to more students and work toward fixing the technician shortage that the industry faces today.
“He shares this dream with me: ‘I want to start a charter school that is focused on automotive; instead of student reading Romeo and Juliet, they’re reading technician service bulletins,’” Bunch says.
A few weeks later, Williams presented this dream in front of key people in the industry that Bunch worked alongside, one of whom was Chris Chesney of Advance Auto Parts, who previously made a goal in his career plan to start a charter school.
“I looked at my boss and says, ‘This kid’s been in my head,’” Chesney says. “I pulled out my strategic plan and says, ‘Follow these bullet points.’”
Later, Chesney, Bunch, and Williams got together to make the plan a reality; after Chesney hired Williams as manager of special projects at Advance to focus solely on the project, the trio kicked planning for the charter school in high gear, and have officially set a date for the industry’s first charter school.
“The work that this group is doing is to not just solve the technician shortage, but to really provide a revolutionary shift in the way we educate people,” Chesney says.
Forming the School’s Partnership
In Williams’ new role at Advance, he’s worked to essentially build the application for the charter school, and has cut the completion time in half, according to Chesney.
“With my assistance and encouragement, he took the bull by the horns and broke every rule in their [education industry’s] ‘don’t do list’ because he would ask why and why not,” Chesney says. “He’s the perfect example of not just following everyone else, and he was able to get the approval for the charter inside of 10 months with glowing results from the school district.”
Following the charter school application, Chesney says the idea has morphed into a P-tech, six-year high school model.
“His goal is the same as mine, and that is not to stand up a school just to stand up a school and produce 100 students per year,” Chesney says. “It’s to revolutionize education, not only in the automotive segment, but in any trade, in any vertical.”
The P-tech, six-year high school model includes a partnership between a public school district, Falcon School District, a community college, Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the industry. According to Chesney, the industry’s roles in the project include raising funds to build the building so that the facilities are available for the school.
Together, the school districts and the industry work to develop the curriculum of the school.
“Work is going on with curriculum development because it’s totally different,” Chesney says. “It’s project-based and it’s a whole different concept of learning.”
According to him, the contract with the school district has been finalized and approved.
“The ball is rolling,” Chesney says.
Putting Forth a Group Effort
The charter school isn’t just meant for one location—it’s meant to make a ripple in the industry and eventually create trends all over.
“This could literally be one of the things that revolutionizes the automotive industry and help bring young talent back into the industry” Bunch says. “We’re at a point now where we have our charter, we’re approved by District 49, I’ve got the business plan in my office here, and we do have to open by 2020 or we do lose our charter.”
According to Bunch, Advance has worked to reach out to those in the industry in efforts to collaborate and become involved in the charter school.
“Advance is kind of the organizer or flag waiver [with the charter school],” Chesney says. “It’s our goal and our mission to bring the industry together to support this. It’s not an Advance project, it’s an industry project.”
What’s to Come
According to Chesney, the school will open in the fall of 2020.
“We will open in a temporary facility and we’ll be working on core projects that immerse them [students] in the three pathways: automotive technology, engineering, and business, but they won’t be adding in the shop or the lab, it will all be project based in a classroom environment,” Chesney says. “We can use the temporary facility that first year, that gives us time to build the facility and give it the time we need to get it perfectly right.”
Chesney says the intent is to open the school in the fall of 2020 and move into the new building fall of 2021.