North Texas school districts are preparing for the 2021-2022 school year. In Mesquite, the district is opening a new high school -- its first in more than 20 years.
The brand new Vanguard High School is unlike anything the district has seen before.
"We really try to pull the lid off of what education is. We’re really trying to do it in a different way and make it innovative for our students,” said school dean Clint Elsasser.
Vanguard HS will kick off classes on Aug. 11 as a choice career campus, the first of its kind for Mesquite ISD. This means students from anywhere in the city can choose to go there and get a head start on specific careers.
"We have to do education differently for students, and this is one way that we can really push that envelope,” said Elsasser.
Students will earn dual credit for college and high school. They will also graduate with both a high school diploma and the potential for an associate's degree or certifications in a field of their choice.
“I think we are realizing as educators that what we’ve been doing is not working. And we have to do education differently. Our students are tech-savvy, they think quick on their feet, there’s so many different ways to learn now and we have so many different needs,” Elsasser said.
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Students can choose from 55 certifications in different career focuses including phlebotomy, EMT, pharmacy tech, dental, automotive, graphic design, architecture, engineering, manufacturing, construction, robotics, computer science, and entrepreneurship.
After graduation, those students will be more than ready to enter the college and university world or go straight into the workforce.
“And really for our business and industry partners, there’s a lot of them in the district that need skilled laborers. They need people to work for them. What an awesome opportunity that we can grow your own right here in Mesquite so we can have them go through our system and they’re ready to work. They can stay in the city that they live,” Elsasser said.
The school is a reminder that education is changing. These types of schools have been a growing trend across North Texas and the country, with similar concepts having already opened in other districts like Garland, Dallas and Grand Prairie.
“I think Mesquite is trying to get on the train but more than that we want to be the engine. We want to drive that,” said Elsasser.
The effort to pursue such a school in Mesquite ISD came from the efforts of Superintendent Dr. David Vroonland, who wanted to offer more to the district's growing student population of 38,000 students.
“We are excited to open this unique high school. It’s an amazing facility designed to allow students to go deep into the exploration and development of their passions," Vroonland said in a statement. "We’re proud of the work of everyone who helped make this project happen—representatives from our community, local businesses, WRA Architects and Pogue Construction, among others.”
What sets Vanguard apart is the school’s layout and schedule, which mirrors what students would see in a college. Lunch time is an open concept with no cafeteria and instead open seating throughout the school for students to choose where to eat.
Teachers at Vanguard also don't have classrooms. In fact, the entire campus is their classroom.
“The classroom isn’t just the four walls of the classroom, the classroom is the entire building,” he said. “When I was in school, I liked to be hands on. Sitting in a classroom didn’t work for me. It doesn’t work for a lot of our students so this is that concept."
Teachers will have carts and laptops that allow them to bring their teaching to different workspaces and labs for each career field. There is no single library, instead there are resource rooms with books specific to the field of study.
“We have to get them ready for the real world. Plus, a lot of them are taking college classes so the design of the school building is to prepare them for that,” said Elsasser. “It’s open concept – open library, media spaces and collaboration spaces all over the building.”
Following with the college experience, even Elsasser’s title is not principal – he’s the dean, with assistant deans in each section of study in the school.
Vanguard High School is starting with freshman and sophomores this school year and will grow from there. Students are selected on an application basis. The district said it received 1,500 applications to fill 1,000 spots this school year.
Elsasser said the school has a max capacity of about 2,000 students. Click here to learn more about the enrollment process.
Because of the course plan over four years, seniors and some juniors at other high schools will not be able to transfer to Vanguard. Juniors who are taking part in specific career programs at their existing school can potentially transfer to Vanguard to continue their program track there.
Additionally, Elsasser said students will still meet all of the STARR standards set forth by the state, with focus on core classes in the freshman and sophomore years. However, the way in which they learn will not confined to a specific schedule or space like other high schools. Junior and senior year will have more emphasis on the career classes and studies.
Since the school is open as a choice for all MISD students no matter where they live, transportation will be provided by the district. Pick-up and drop-off zones will be set up throughout the city.
Setting Vanguard apart from traditional schools, there are no competitive sports teams like football or basketball. Instead, there are individual sports like archery, fishing, camping, and career clubs.
But just like other high schools, they will plan for a junior and senior prom.
The district is also still looking to fill a few more teacher spots at Vanguard HS this year. Elsasser said they'll be looking to hire many more in the years to come.
If you are interested in either learning or teaching opportunities at Vanguard HS, click here.