Olathe Public Schools in Olathe, Kansas, is home to a robust Real World Learning (RWL) program designed to promote Career and Technical Education (CTE) among the district’s five high schools. Those high schools, in conjunction with the Olathe Advanced Technical Center (OATC) and Mill Creek Center, their alternative school, provide nearly 10,000 secondary students with work-based learning opportunities. In 2022, 85% of those students participated in a CTE pathway.
Barbra Gonzales, the district’s CTE Coordinator, is responsible for managing the program, including building and maintaining a large network of local business partners who are willing to provide internships and experiential learning opportunities for students. She’s been using Transeo Jobs since early 2021 to help her grow and manage her business partner network and create advisory boards that provide continual support and feedback.
What are advisory boards?
Alongside many other strategies for organizing such a large program, Barbra and her staff have found great success implementing advisory committees among their business network.
Advisory boards, or advisory committees, are a group of people outside the education profession who are respected in their own lines of work. This group provides advice and support to CTE educators, administrators, and board of education members regarding career clusters, local employment needs, and marketplace trends.
Although districts can use advisory boards differently depending on their needs, the main goal of every committee is to aid in the development and operation of the CTE pathway. In Kansas, advisory committees are required as part of the pathway approval process and a condition of accepting Perkins V funds.
Barbra has found ways to use advisory committees in Olathe very effectively, as a way to provide guidance and leadership in local pathways, insight into the types of pathways needed in the community, and resources for student work-based learning opportunities. She emphasizes the importance of viewing advisory members as true partners, not just people who can validate what the CTE program is already doing.
And to facilitate that partnership, Barbra recognizes the necessity of a robust work-based learning software that can manage and automate business partner communication. “The Transeo platform has been a wonderful tool to help organize Advisory Board information,” Barbra said. “It helps our large system to streamline communication and files into one system that’s easy to access and use.”
Evaluating ROI with business partners
One way to promote true partnership between the CTE administrators and members of the advisory committee is by constantly evaluating and communicating the return on investment for both parties.
Taking part in an advisory committee can have a variety of benefits for business partners, including promoting brand loyalty and positive word of mouth within the community, increasing company morale, facilitating easier recruitment and skill/leadership development, strengthening government and vendor relations, building the labor pool, intrinsic reward, management skills development and more.
Of course, there are also myriad benefits to CTE administrators, including boots-on-the-ground insight into local career pathways and a reliable business partner network. By demonstrating shared investment between educators and advisors, both parties can share in the returns.
Recruiting members for the advisory committee
To build and maintain a strong advisory board, CTE educators should consider who the best active members would be. Advisory boards should have enough active members to provide (or find) the necessary human and financial resources for your program. Business and industry members should make up at least 50% of the committee.
Aim for a minimum of three business/industry members, but five to seven is ideal. These members should be representative of local career clusters and pathways. Prioritize finding a diverse group of partners, and look for nontraditional careers to be represented. Leverage Transeo usage data to identify the most popular career sectors in your community, and seek out representatives from those areas. Populate the rest of the committee with postsecondary partners and district staff and administration.
Select members based on experience within the occupational areas served by the career cluster. Consider developing a rotation schedule so members won’t be intimidated by the time commitment and will be more likely to serve (Olathe Public Schools has found success with a 3-year membership cycle). Designate leadership roles to assist with business duties; Barbra appoints a chairperson, vice-chairperson and secretary to every advisory committee.
Although district staff should be included on the board, they should be non-voting members and should not hold officer positions.
Make sure every meeting has a purpose and all members are engaged. People are more willing to serve if they feel that the time they’re investing has tangible results. Aim to meet a minimum of twice each school year. Below is a sample agenda for an Olathe advisory committee meeting:
- Roll call and introduction of guests
- Review and approve minutes from previous meeting
- Special presentations
- Committee reports and teacher updates
- Unfinished business
- New business
Above all, meetings should be focused on the students in your program. Are they being well served by the work-based learning opportunities offered? Is there any new ground the program should explore to grow and scale its impact?
Barbra recommends creating SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) goals and selecting one or two areas each meeting to refine with members. Topics can include:
- Analyze the physical internship environment, including equipment, resources, technology needs and current industry standards
- Professional development and training for teachers
- CTE instructional strategies
- Review sequence of courses
- Review course outlines, career development skills and core competencies
- Recommend additional work-based learning experiences, projects and programs
- Advise on applicable industry credentials
- Assist with obtaining testing, licenses and certifications
- Assist in placing graduates with job shadowing and internships
- Advise on new and emerging occupations
Olathe’s Do’s and Don’ts of advisory committees
In Barbra’s years of experience with CTE, she has come across some common best (and worst) practices for making the most out of your advisory boards.
DO keep three-year SMART goals on file in the CTE office to ground every committee meeting.
DO use a robust software platform, like Transeo Jobs, to send meeting invites and manage business partner communication.
DO keep agendas, minutes, and other materials updated in Transeo.
DO go out of your way to recognize committee members. This can be done through publications (share name and picture of members in school newspaper articles and brochures), complimentary tickets to program fundraisers or activities, recognition of members at school events and letters of appreciation (after meetings, end of year, end of term, holidays, etc.).
DON’T recruit the same people as on your alumni or booster club. The advisory committee should serve its own unique role.
DON’T just have the committee listen while you talk–invite discussion and collaboration.
DON’T have the committee just walk through the facility, eat some cookies and go.
DON’T have the committee select officers or review award applications at a regular meeting. Schedule a subcommittee meeting instead.
An effective advisory committee is a necessary and helpful way to manage your work-based learning program, which can in turn have an immeasurable positive impact on students. “Olathe Public Schools is grateful to our business and postsecondary partners and the roles they play with our CTE pathways,” Barbra said. “We owe much of our success to them and would not be able to provide all the opportunities we do without their participation.”