North East ISD looks to reconfigure two existing technology-based magnet programs into one program designed to lure more students interested in space and aerospace engineering careers.

School district officials said the new Space and Engineering Technologies Academy magnet program could begin classes for sixth through 12th graders in the 2023-24 academic year. SETA, district officials said, would blend much of the curricula featured in NEISD’s Krueger School of Applied Technologies and the Engineering and Technologies Academy.

NEISD trustees unanimously voted April 11 to approve realign the KSAT and ETA programs and their administrative functions, restructure program pathways, and give the new SETA program the ability to partner with NASA.

School board members accepted the recommendation from district staff, who cited low enrollment trends at both ETA and KSAT as one reason to develop a new program tailored to accommodate students’ evolving interests in space and aerospace-related professions.

According to NEISD, the ETA program was founded in 2003 with a focus on STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, fields. KSAT was founded in 1998 with a focus on rocketry and information technology.

Esmeralda Muñoz, learning support services executive director, said ETA enrolled 305 students for the current school year compared with 325 students in 2018-19 and 323 in 2019-20.

KSAT has enrolled 365 students in the current school year, compared with 345 students in 2018-19 and 362 in 2019-20.

Muñoz said the new SETA program would help to better align various aspects of middle and high school students’ coursework contained in the existing KSAT and ETA programs, and align NEISD with similar offerings currently provided in certain colleges and universities.

“We don’t want to have kids prepared for programs not offered in post-secondary settings,” Muñoz said.

NEISD surveyed current KSAT and ETA students and parents, and talked with faculty members as part of the creation of the SETA program.

The new program, Muñoz said, could encourage higher enrollment and improve students’ career and technology education pathways. As a result, participating students will be better prepared to pursue current and future jobs in such fields as mechanical, aerospace and computer engineering, and naval and wind sciences.

Muñoz also said it is crucial for graduating NEISD students to be ready for industry certification.

Additionally, the new SETA program will help to students to better prepare for participation in University Interscholastic League academic competitions focused on space and aerospace engineering, Muñoz said.

“We were looking at competitions that could easily weave themselves into what our students are going to be currently doing as part of this program,” she said.

Muñoz said the SETA program will be set up in a way to accommodate collaboration with NASA, including having NASA instructional coaches teach students on campus.

Muñoz said the SETA/NASA partnership could also yield virtual hands-on lessons for students, and aerospace education training opportunities for teachers.

“When we were looking at this program, we said, ‘How do we further prepare our kids so that they’re a competitive force when it comes to participating in these types of career fields?’” Muñoz said.

NEISD Superintendent Sean Maika said Texas’ growing space and aerospace industries, and recent scientific investments made by billionaire business leaders such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, are raising awareness of related jobs among students.

According to the Career Explorer aerospace job tracking firm, the United States is expected to need 7,800 aerospace engineers to fill jobs over the next 10 years.

“We can offer lots of things that kids enjoy, but if that leads them to nowhere, is that what we want to put our support behind?” Maika said. “These are high-demand, high-paying jobs,” he said.

District plans call for the SETA high school magnet section to be based at Roosevelt High School, and work with administrators at Roosevelt and at Krueger middle schools.

According to district plans, the SETA middle school assistant magnet director’s position will be based at Krueger.

Board members expressed enthusiasm for the new SETA program.

“I do like the restructure of the middle school and the high school academic programs,” District 7 Trustee Sandy Winkley said.

District 2 Trustee Terri Williams said the creation of a new space and aerospace magnet program was “exciting.”

“This is a huge step in innovation,” she said.

District 4 Trustee David Beyer encouraged district administrators to keep communicating with students and educators about SETA’s development in order to ensure a smooth programming transition.