Weathersbee: Collierville's new high school is a step towards educating kids for an innovation age


From the outside, people could easily mistake the new Collierville High School for a university campus.

That is, until they see the facade that says it’s a high school.

Then, when they go inside, they’ll find libraries with lounge areas. Labs equipped with anatomical dummies, physical therapy beds and chemistry labs. It has 18 vocational classrooms. The cafeteria area looks like a college dining hall.   

On top of that, the school will provide MacBook Air computers to its students for a $50 fee. Parents only pay $25 for a second and third child, at a cap of $100.

All of this, of course, comes courtesy of taxpayers who voted for a $95 million bond issue to build the school; a bond that will take three decades to pay off.

But while the school is equipped to prepare students for jobs where shortages exist, such as in nursing and in skilled trades, it will also have to educate youths for an age in which robots are, according to some studies, expected to replace at least 47 percent of the jobs that humans perform now.

Consider nursing. Right now there’s a shortage, but in some areas, such as surgical nursing, robots are now assisting surgeons in operations.

Many medical tasks, such as reading diagnostic scans, are being done by artificial intelligence. And last year, the McKinsey Global Institute published a study which found that a third of U.S. workers would have to switch jobs by 2030.

That would include many of the students at Collierville High.

Nonetheless, Collierville has the resources to meet that challenge. But those resources must be paired with something else: Educating youths with critical thinking skills that will help them to adapt to a workforce where jobs are constantly being lost or reshaped by technology, said futurist Nat Irvin II.

“You think about an organization like Google, where the engineers have to constantly retrain to keep up,” said Irvin, who is also assistant dean of Thought Leadership & Civic Engagement at the University of Louisville College of Business.

“The truth is, technology moves fast. In the future, the only skill that going to matter is learning how to learn… it won’t matter about the building. What matters is whether kids are learning how to to learn…

“That’s the only skill that’s going to be useful in the future.”

Jasbir Dhaliwal, executive vice president for research and innovation at the University of Memphis, said technology will give the school an advantage in providing that skill.

“There are a lot of frameworks for critical thinking, and technology can facilitate that,” he said.

It can.

Besides the health labs and chemistry labs, the school has a new social studies wing and four music rooms. That’s important – because social studies is a conduit for teaching history and social systems in a way to help students pick apart problems from triumphs and failures of the past.

More: New Collierville High School: ‘A leap of faith’ realized

Music, or anything related to the arts, helps students to think in the abstract.

Those skills can help youths transcend jobs that are repetitive in nature – and are in danger of being replaced by artificial intelligence.

And the 18 vocational classrooms are a huge step – because vocational jobs are in demand now, and  will be needed when the robots need to be repaired. 

No school can keep up with technological changes. And Collierville taxpayers took a leap of faith in agreeing to tax themselves to build the school.

But that leap of faith will pay off if the school is successful not only in using its resources to teach youths the skills they need to work in today’s job market, but in teaching them the skills to adapt as those jobs are revamped or eliminated.

So, in the 30 years it will take Collierville taxpayers to pay off those bonds, it’ll be well worth the gamble.

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