As students returned to school in Frisco ISD, construction began on a $22.19 million project to expand FISD’s Career and Technical Education Center from 175,186 square feet to 220,549 square feet.

FISD students are encouraged to explore programs at the CTE center, FISD Associate Deputy Superintendent Wes Cunningham said. The experience gained through CTE courses in high school helps students be more sure about their future careers, he said. In many cases, students can also start working immediately in their field upon high school graduation.

“This gives them the chance to experience some real-world jobs, and real-world skills and concepts in a safe environment,” Cunningham said.

CTE Center Principal Dianna Manuel said the student enrollment at the center is driving its expansion.

When the CTE Center first opened in 2008, it served about 1,200 students, Manuel said. Now it serves more than 5,000.

In previous years, the CTE program has seen as much as a 12%-13% increase in the number of students. It continues to grow today, officials said.

“We’re to the limit of our building capacity,” CTE Center Assistant Principal Travis Volk said.

There are some programs that FISD has to limit because of space, staffing or internship availability, which the district wants to avoid, Manuel said.

“Even 3% or 5% growth can still be hundreds of students that we right now don’t have room for,” she said. “That’s why the expansion is so important.”

Project details

The expansion is being funded through FISD’s 2018 school bond program. Project completion is slated for the summer of 2024, in time for classes during the 2024-25 school year, officials said.

The existing building will be expanded to include a single-story addition on the southwest side. Also included in expansion plans are a two-story tornado shelter on the southeast side that will be surrounded by new single-story space, according to a January board presentation.

The southwest addition will feature expanded space for the district’s veterinary medicine program, according to the presentation. The southwest addition will also add classroom space.

In the new southeastern space, a two-story circulation space between the existing building and addition will aim to “provide a smooth transition while maintaining the existing south facade,” according to the presentation. A mixture of architecture, graphics, animation, esports and artificial intelligence labs will be included throughout the addition.

Renovation work on the first and second floors of the existing building space are also included in architect’s plans, which will add more space for health science studies.

The parking lot on the southeast side of the building along Ohio Drive will be removed for the new addition, reducing the center’s total parking capacity from 787 to 673 spaces.

In the end, the CTE Center will have 30 new classrooms and seven multipurpose spaces to accommodate the hands-on learning models of CTE. The space will allow for about 1,000 additional students per day to be able to take classes at the CTE Center, according to the district website.

How it works

CTE programs are typically offered during high school for FISD students at the center located at 9889 Wade Blvd. Typically starting from their freshman year, students can select a course of study, or pathway, and if they so choose they can follow that pathway all the way through their senior year, Manuel said. However, FISD also allows students to choose more than one course of study and to pick up CTE courses at any time.

“They don’t [have to] commit,” Manuel said. “They’re kids, they don’t know what they want to do yet.”

CTE classes differ from other classes in that they are not lecture-based, Manuel said. The teachers and students are usually producing or creating something during the class period, such as programming a piece of software, creating an animation, or preparing meals and gaining kitchen experience in the CTE Center’s restaurant, Saveur.

“That’s a big part of what we do here, is exposing kids to things that they could just really fall in love with,” said Bryan Bunn, a computer science teacher at the CTE Center.

The district partners with the city, the Frisco Economic Development Corp., the Frisco Chamber of Commerce and the Texas Workforce Commission to understand what career opportunities students should know about, Cunningham said.

The classes aim to ensure students experience as much as they can before they enter the workforce or decide on a course of study in college, officials said.

“You don’t waste years in college trying something that you’re not really sure you like or not,” Manuel said.

Expanding professions

In addition to providing students with hands-on experience with real-world work, FISD offers certifications in many of its pathways so students can either get a step ahead on college applications or enter the workforce immediately out of high school, Manuel said.

Michelle Millen, dean of health sciences and emergency services at Collin College, said all the partnerships the college has with FISD lead to a certification of some sort.

She said not only do CTE programs help students explore career path options, but they also involve more rigorous coursework.

“To hold those students accountable to that higher level of college rigor is something that is, I think, really valuable for high school students,” she said.

Collin College recognizes that some students are ready for the workforce right after high school, and others are college bound, Millen said. Partnering with the CTE and dual-credit programs with various districts ultimately helps those students succeed, which in turn helps the workforce, she said.

Collin College has increased its opportunities for CTE-based programs, opening four new campuses during the COVID-19 pandemic, including its technical education center in Allen. This also indicates the demand for programs like these, not just from students, but also from employers, she said.

“We recognize the community impact of being able to prepare students for their next chapter,” Millen said.

Cunningham said that while CTE classes are fun and engaging, they do involve intense learning that usually helps students be better prepared for college, too.

Volk added that sometimes the students who struggle in other subjects or cause trouble in the classroom are able to “come alive” at the CTE Center. The programs there can help these students find a new passion for learning, he said.

“The kids mature ... because they see that there’s a positive outcome for them in the long run,” Volk said. “They found that passion for something they’ve discovered here in one of the classes.”