Making a difference with Oracle Academy
The spotlight is on Maria Flores, Career Readiness Program Manager, Houston Independent School District, Texas
The Houston Independent School District (HISD) is the largest school district in Texas and seventh largest in the United States. It serves over 209,000 students at 280 schools and has 27,000 employees. HISD encompasses a diverse number of ethnic backgrounds and income groups. More than 79 percent of its students are classified as being economically disadvantaged, broken down by ethnicity at 62 percent Hispanic, 22 percent African American, 4.17 percent Asian, and 9 percent Caucasian.
To serve its students, the Career and Technical Education (CTE) division is responsible for teaching skills-based careers to students in middle school, high school, and post-secondary institutions at HISD. CTE’s mission is to provide teachers with the support they need to assist students in closing the workforce gap, preparing students to be life-long learners, and training them with the skills required by industry.
It offers 16 career pathways and handles 244 industry-based certifications. Computer science courses were added to the CTE course selection in Fall 2018. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) approved the Computer Programming and Software Design pathway in September 2019, and that will become available for the upcoming school year.
Maria Flores, Program Manager of Career Readiness, is responsible for curriculum and professional certifications, and assists with professional development. Her role is to help teachers prepare students for their future in industry pathways such as Manufacturing, Health Science, STEM and more. She holds a BA in Marketing from the University of Houston, where she taught Marketing Education for 8 years.
Last year, Flores was presented with the opportunity to support computer science and computer programming teachers by locating trainings and useful resources. Faced with the challenge, Ms. Flores reviewed many curricula. She discovered Oracle Academy and the free assistance it provides.
HISD partners with Oracle Academy to stimulate significant growth in computer science and computer programming education across one of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. By making Oracle Academy course material and resources available, HISD provides equal opportunity to all teachers and students, benefiting a broad spectrum of students from diverse backgrounds.
Oracle Academy: What were the challenges of having computer science as a subject under your umbrella?
Maria Flores: Well, to start with, I had to learn it! But that’s part of the job and I love it. The first step was to organize professional development trainings for those interested. Many of the participants had some or minimal experience in computer science and computer programming. My goal was to find the best resources available that fit within the department’s budget. I was thrilled to find that Oracle Academy offered free training, curriculum, and resources.
Oracle Academy: How did you begin to conduct the teacher trainings?
Maria Flores: Oracle Academy staff let me know they would provide a workshop if I could gather a sizeable group of teachers. I canvassed the district and immediately had 25 teachers signed up for Java Programming. This intensive professional development training covered eight hours of instruction a day for four days.
Having Oracle Academy instructors conduct the workshop was priceless. It helped teachers evaluate their knowledge of programming and offered free online skills development opportunities. In addition, it provided networking to those who were the sole computer science and computer programming teachers at their campus.
Oracle Academy: What plans do you have for computer science in the district?
Maria Flores: We are renewing our cooperative agreement with Oracle Academy to cover 55 middle schools and 50 high schools. As the program grows, we will probably adopt a train-the-trainer model by having our own Oracle Academy champion within the district to help more teachers come on-board.
The Career Readiness Department also has recruited a Computer Science Division Director and a Program Manager. HISD’s first computer science campus, Houston Academy for Computer Sciences (HACS), is scheduled to open in August 2020 to serve 900 students in grades 6 through 12.
Oracle Academy: How are the teachers reacting to the Oracle Academy resources?
Maria Flores: Our teachers are excited to see the additional support. Overall, it means they gain training and classroom materials that are going to lead their students to learn the fundamentals of coding and programming to earn certifications.
I found the resources really engaged the teachers. We now are providing them with a support platform they did not have before. Teachers and students obtain industry-leading technology that previously had been unavailable to them. It’s challenging, but very satisfying, especially in terms of demand for skills in this discipline. And we’re just starting!
Oracle Academy: Does HISD have plans to offer Oracle professional certification resources in the future?
Maria Flores: Yes, that is something I am working toward. We already know there is interest in the business community. Demand for professional industry-standard certifications is increasing. In two years, the TEA has expanded the offering of industry-based certifications from 84 to 244 across 16 pathways. We have students interested in preparing to become Oracle Certified Associate Java SE 8 and Oracle Certified Database Associate. In the future, I expect to purchase the necessary Oracle exam vouchers. In fact, I am considering taking that OCA Java exam myself some day!
Oracle Academy: How do you see this partnership evolving?
Maria Flores: One year after the first professional development workshop, we have seen a significant increase in participation throughout the district. Some teachers are using Alice as an introduction to Java programming, while other teachers are using Database Fundamentals and Database Design and Programming with SQL. Many parents with backgrounds in using Oracle products or working for Oracle have had a favorable reaction to our partnership with Oracle Academy.
With an increased emphasis on remote learning, we are now determining how to stage virtual professional development workshops. Oracle Academy has launched a series of virtual summer trainings in preparation for the upcoming school year. Teachers are enthusiastic about the course offerings, which include Java Fundamentals, Java Foundations, Java Programming, Database Foundations, Database Design and Programming with SQL, and Database Programming with PL/SQL.
We are on track to accomplishing great success in computer science and computer programming education.
Thank you, Maria Flores, for your passion for Oracle Academy and for preparing your students to make a positive impact.