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Blue Valley CAPS program now spreading across the country

A crown jewel for its home district, Blue Valley CAPS program now spreading across the country

Blue Valley Post by Jay Senter

The idea was as simple as it was nebulous when the Blue Valley Board of Education dropped it on then-Superintendent Tom Trigg’s desk in the mid-2000s.

While Blue Valley schools had consistently produced exemplary academic outcomes, members of the board saw a need to better connect the classroom experience of students with the ever-changing demands of the workplace.

“We collectively as a board believed there was an opportunity not only to advance education, but to connect businesses with the district,” said Clint Robinson, a vice president of government affairs at Black & Veatch who served on the Blue Valley board from 2003 to 2011. “We didn’t know how we were going to do it. But we told [Trigg] that’s what we wanted and kind of said go figure it out.”

After months of work, Trigg and his staff presented an idea for a program where upperclassmen high school students could get advanced instruction in the fields they had the strongest interest in pursuing as a career. The program would have its own state-of-the-art building, a gathering place where teachers and local business leaders would work one-on-one with students in healthcare, engineering, bioscience and other fields.

In 2009, Blue Valley officially launched the Center for Advanced Professional Studies, or CAPS, in a brand new facility across from the district’s administrative offices.

“As with any new program, there was initially some trepidation about leaving your home high school every day to come to the CAPS building and about the idea of having business and education together,” Robinson said. “But once it got a critical mass, the message was getting back to the home high schools quickly: This is an incredible opportunity. Find a way to make a CAPS experience work in your schedule.”

Seven years later, CAPS has not only become a crowning jewel for its home district, but a movement that’s spread across the country.

With the early success of CAPS in its formative years, other districts quickly came calling in hopes of replicating the program. Districts in Utah, Minnesota, Kansas and Missouri established agreements with CAPS that allowed them to use some of the curriculum and resources Blue Valley had developed. But those first handful of partnerships were one-on-one relationships where CAPS served as a hub sending information individually to each of the other districts.

When current CAPS Executive Director Corey Mohn came on in 2014, he saw the potential of extending the CAPS idea beyond the initial few partners, but also of fostering communication and connection between all the participants.

“[The question was] how do we support and sustain this growth in the program, and how do we build it in such a way that if partners are developing value and connections that we don’t have in Blue Valley…that we get that value back to us in the other direction?” Mohn said.

In the summer of 2015, Blue Valley launched the CAPS Network, a formal framework for bringing the CAPS system to other districts. Participating districts pay a membership fee, and get access to CAPS materials and relationships as a result. And the exchange of resources and connections flows between all members.

“We’ve seen some partners that are elsewhere that we are now talking to here,” Mohn said. “Best Buy is headquartered ten minutes from three of our programs in Minnesota. We had them come down and they were part of our summer conference…So now we’re talking about are there data analytics projects around consumer trends and psychology that maybe our students work on.”

In Bentonville, Ark., the local school district signed on to the CAPS Network and forged a relationship with Walmart.

“They are the first high school students ever to work inside a Walmart corporate building,” Mohn said. “It happened because of CAPS, which I’m pretty proud of.”

The benefits of the network are paying off for the program’s initial business partners, as well. Black & Veatch, for example, has now connected regional offices with CAPS affiliates in St. Louis and Arizona, helping the company develop training relationships with burgeoning engineering students in those markets in addition to Kansas City.

“One of the things we hadn’t contemplated at the beginning was how to connect Black & Veatch with CAPS,” Robinson said. “The benefit is that now with CAPS Network there is opportunity for us to connect our regional offices with network programs.”