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Professional Opinion

Charter school offers partnership model others can replicate

How connections with higher ed and industry put students on the path toward success
Michael Lauro is associate executive director of the Atlantis Charter School.
Michael Lauro is associate executive director of the Atlantis Charter School.

Too many students graduate high school unprepared for college and career. There is a disconnect between what they know when they leave high school and what they are expected to know when they enter college and the workplace. They lack vital communications and critical thinking skills as well as real-world experiences.

So, how do you prevent this disconnect?

At Atlantis Charter School in Fall River, Massachusetts, we set out to find a solution. As a public charter school, we have the autonomy and flexibility to design our own curriculum, and we used that autonomy to build a high school from scratch.

We brought together a coalition of partners from local colleges and universities, businesses, financial and philanthropic institutions, and other community groups.

We asked: What skills should students possess when they graduate high school? What jobs are in demand right now?

With their guidance, we created five school-to-career academies:

  • Business and Entrepreneurship
  • STEM
  • Arts, Culture & Design
  • Teacher Development
  • Health, Med-Tech & Sports Medicine

These academies are the hallmark of our new school. Students get early exposure to in-demand careers such as 3D printing, medicine and business. We’re creating a pipeline of students with skills that are sought after by colleges and employers.

College model

Academy classes are taught in college-like block schedules, by adjunct instructors who are experts in their fields. Our higher education and industry partners advise us on curriculum and create real-world experiences for our students, such as college visits, job shadowing and internships.

Take our Arts, Culture and Design Academy as an example. We partnered with Berklee College of Music in Boston and TJ’s Music in Fall River to produce a curriculum that mirrors what is taught to Berklee freshmen. Students learn in a real recording studio at TJ’s Music. They are taught by industry experts and well-known record producers.

This opens doors for students by helping them gain connections.

We also have a wonderful partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and use the school’s Integrated Design Management (IDM) program. We worked closely with the lead professor and duplicated the graduate school IDM lab. One of his former students is now our adjunct professor.

This provides our students with an incredible learning experience, and it benefits MIT because we are creating a pipeline of students interested in STEM careers.

We also want our students to earn college credit for the work they do in the academies. We have agreements with three schools that if the quality and integrity of the program meet the standards of the university, the students will get elective credit toward graduation.

Much to do

Do we have everything figured out? No. This approach is still in its infancy, but we have proved it is possible to have successful K12 and higher education partnerships.

We will graduate our first class of seniors this spring. We will follow our grads closely to see how they fare, and we will likely make adjustments to the program based on their successes and feedback.

Our mission is to create a new model for high school education, one that can be duplicated at other schools across the country.

The partnership with higher education and industry is critical to ensuring our youth have the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in our fast-changing, global economy. It’s how we created our curriculum, it’s how we now deliver the curriculum, and it’s how we will evaluate and adjust the curriculum moving forward.

We can’t do this alone. It will take collaboration and integration to help students prepare for the challenges of the future. We hope our efforts can provide a foundation for success that others can build on.


Michael Lauro is associate executive director of the Atlantis Charter School.