A new type of school will enter Chicago's crowded public education system next fall, a kind of high school-community college hybrid that, if successful, could one day become a model for preparing students for professional careers without a university diploma.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel helped secure a $400,000 "challenge grant" from IBM that will lay the groundwork for as many as five new schools in Chicago Public Schools in 2012-13, each offering technical training in areas such as computer technology and engineering.
The schools are a departure from traditional vocational high schools because incoming freshmen could be enrolled for up to six years and leave school with an associate's degree and specialized training. Graduates also will be given preference for entry-level jobs at IBM.
"If we're going to really meet our commitment to young people to say, 'You're going to be prepared for entry-level jobs in a good-paying career, not just a job that leads to a dead end,' they're going to need an associate's degree," said Robin Willner, an IBM executive who's overseeing the Chicago initiative. "This is not about narrowing a student's opportunity. It's saying not only will you be first in line for a job at IBM, but also prepared for an IT career (elsewhere)."