When Mark Morgan (pictured above) became principal of Centennial’s Cherry Creek Innovation Campus (CCIC), which opened in Aug. 2019, he was more than excited to welcome students into a hands-on learning environment that was unlike anything the Cherry Creek School District had ever seen: a headquarters where high schoolers can earn college credit, get ready to work right after graduation and turn undecided goals into pinpointed passions—all through extremely interactive part-time courses that train like the real world. And the district was more than excited to have Morgan at the helm, a humble visionary credited with leading the efforts to bring the school to life (though he gives all the kudos to his team).
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH CCIC?
“I was lucky enough to be part of a school district team that was inspired to explore the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what nexts’ of high school education several years ago. There was a real need for additional career-driven programs that would allow students to explore different industries, so we went to voters in November 2016 and passed a mill levy override to make it happen. Shortly after, I became the principal of CCIC and began implementing our vision.”
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO JOIN THE MISSION?
“I had my own experiences in high school where what I was told I would be good at didn’t really translate into reality. I honestly didn’t get a better understanding of myself until college, and that took some exploration that required a great deal of time and money. Students should have a better understanding of themselves as they prepare to graduate high school—they’ll spend more time and money in areas that will give them a better return on their investment, which translates into more overall satisfaction and a higher quality of life.”
WHAT MAKES CCIC DIFFERENT?
“The partnerships we have with local businesses and institutions allow us to create really unique programs that show students what it’s like to work in a number of jobs—some of our biggest partners are HealthOne, Kiewit, Mikron and the Federal Aviation Administration. We also have a great mix of teachers and industry professionals with valuable expertise to share. I really strive to provide the best resources for students in terms of career preparedness—not just college preparedness, but career paths in the trades. I was recently listening to Morgan Stevens, a 2020 graduate from Overland High School who went through our Infrastructure Engineering pathway this past year. She is headed to Colorado State University to study construction management and will flat out tell you CCIC was a game changer for her. She spoke about how experiencing success in a traditionally male-dominated field—construction—has given her a lot of confidence.”
HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO MEASURE STUDENT SUCCESS ABOVE WHAT CHERRY CREEK SCHOOLS HAS SEEN IN THE PAST?
“We have seen that students’ attendance and academic performance tend to be better at CCIC than at their high schools—which isn’t surprising to me because they love being here and are excited to invest in their future. It’s amazing to see how students rise to the occasion. One of my favorite examples of this is Stephanie Torres, one of our Advanced Manufacturing students, who started an apprenticeship with Reata Engineering this past year. Reata’s leadership team remarked that Stephanie was one of the best apprentices they’ve ever had.”
HOW WAS ADAPTING TO ONLINE LEARNING WHEN COVID-19 HIT?
“Adjusting to online learning in our first year was definitely a challenge. Fortunately, we had some great business partners to look to for real-life examples as we simulated experiences via webinars, demonstrations, software and other virtual tools.”
WHAT’S YOUR ADVICE FOR 2020 GRADS NAVIGATING THE WORKFORCE RIGHT NOW?
“Leverage your youth, excitement and training to find ways to grow and overcome the obstacles. You are far more agile and ready to take on new challenges than the generations before you; now is the time to really tap into your passions and skill sets to create a place for yourself. We’re all watching, and we’ll learn from you.”
HOW TO KEEP YOUR HIGH SCHOOLER ENGAGED IN ONLINE LEARNING
Many are still uncertain what the upcoming school year will look like. Morgan has some tips for parents to keep teens committed from home this fall:
LEND AN EAR
“Losing the intimacy of being in a learning environment with teachers, industry professionals and peers can be very difficult for high schoolers, and that’s something they shouldn’t have to hide. Lend an ear to your teen and find ways to help them overcome challenges they’re facing.”
SHARE YOUR TRIUMPHS AND FRUSTRATIONS
“For many parents, the transition to working from home has had its trials, too. Being able to ‘cuss and discuss’ the issues at hand with your high schooler will help remind them that you’re in this together and that, collectively, we are all overcoming new challenges.”
KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE PRIZE
“When things feel uncertain, it is important to remember your ‘why.’ If your high schooler appears to be frustrated, disengaged or just running out of steam, have a talk about their goals and help identify the steps that will lead them there. Though the world may be full of distractions, remind them that what ultimately matters is that they maintain their curiosity and passion for life.”
CHERRY CREEK INNOVATION CAMPUS