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Some kids aren’t cut out for the traditional educational path. Many students have untapped talents that are valuable in today’s workplace but are overlooked because they are forced into the old-school framework.

The good news?

There is now another pathway for those kids who want to explore the possibilities of earning a living in a profession that interests and excites them.

In this episode, founder of the Capital College & Career Academy, Kevin Dobson, joins me to chat about his free public charter school dedicated to accelerating high school students. He explains how getting into a trade is now a viable option and how you can do your part in showing them the new opportunities available within this visionary alternative.

Listen now.

Show highlights include: 

  • Why the educational powers-that-be label you as a thief when you challenge their long-held beliefs (3:18)
  • The secret to becoming an engineer (without ever going to college) (8:09)
  • How to enter the construction field (even if you have no idea how to swing a hammer) (10:14)
  • The ideal way to discover your career without wasting time and building a mountain of debt (16:42)
  • Common misconceptions about charter schools and why most have it completely wrong. (19:10)

About the Guest:

Discovering his passion for teaching since high school, Kevin Dobson is dedicated to helping students excel in their studies and perform well by the time they enter the workforce. However, he has seen a dilemma in the current education system that seems to remain unaddressed to this day: despite the rapid advancements in technology and the world, the way of learning still stays the same.

Capital College and Career Academy: https://capcca.org/about-us/

Kevin’s Email: kdobson@capcca.org

Read Full Transcript

This is Eric Anderton, and you're listening to “Construction Genius”, a leadership masterclass. Thomas Edison said that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. If you're a construction leader, you know all about the perspiration, and this show is all about the one percent inspiration that you can add to your hard work to help you to improve your leadership.

Eric: Kevin, welcome back to Construction Genius.

Kevin: Thank you for having me. It's been a while since we were here last.

Eric: I know, and congratulations on getting the charter for Capital College and Career Academy. It's quite a journey that you've been on the last few years.

Kevin: Yeah, I think the last time we were here was 2019, and so here we are in 2022. A lot has happened since then.

Eric: Yeah, tell us about it. I know you've been really pushing on this, wanting to bring to the Sacramento area a college or a free public charter school preparing high school students for a wide variety of careers, but really focused on the construction industry. Tell us a little bit. I know we talked again and we talked in 2019. What's happened between 2019 and now, in 2022? [02:12.2]

Kevin: Yeah. Initially, our goal was to open in 2021. It means we'd already be in our second year of operation. Obviously, we had the pandemic that hit us. For a lot of people, that was a big setback. For our team, honestly, it was a blessing in disguise. We doubled down on our partnerships, strengthened both industry and community college partnerships. Our board has grown exponentially. Ultimately, we were ready to submit the charter petition, and went forward in September 2021.

Fortunately, it got denied. As with all things, it's political. As one of my board members said, it was such a good idea, they didn't want us to do it. From there, we again strengthened our partnerships, did a lot of work, both politically and also just in terms of our model and the description of what we were trying to do, and came back in April and got charter approved, closed escrow on our property, and it's been a thousand miles per hour, full speed ahead at this point. [03:03.6]

Eric: Let's talk about that, because you're looking to open up a school that gives people an introduction into the construction trades, like carpentry, electrical, and plumbing. Why do you think you came across all of these political obstacles as you were trying to get the charter up and running?

Kevin: Any time you have a charter school, there's inherently going to be some pushback, this idea that you're somehow stealing kids from the local comprehensive high schools. To me, that just doesn't make sense and it doesn't make sense, because at our closest high school, a third of the kids aren't going to graduate. Schoolwide, 3% of kids are meeting or exceeding standards in math. You talk about stealing kids. I mean, again, a third of your school is not graduating. We see this as an opportunity really to grow the pie, understand others. Others don't see it that way.

I guess, to that point, I would just point out that a study just came out from Stanford University yesterday, I believe, and it showed that charter schools not only improved outcomes of those students most pushed out of the traditional school system, but also improved the educational outcomes at the closest comprehensive traditional schools. Again, I think it there's that pushback. [04:05.5]

Then, the other thing is just I think there were organizations and individuals that didn't want to have a conversation, and it wasn't until we started to really show them what we were doing and built those relationships that I think people really started to come in and say, “Man, this is an amazing opportunity. How do we get involved?”

Eric: You're just one person, and when I think about what you've done up to this point, I think of this tremendous amount of energy and persistence that's required. What, for you, was the turning point when you came up against this opposition and yet you managed to negotiate around it and get to the point where the charter got granted?

Kevin: Yeah, great question. I was actually out with a construction executive the other day at our school site. He asked the same questions. “Man, how did you do this? And what drives you?” I think, I mean it, I'm not going to lie and act like it was easy. I mean, it took a toll on our family. I've got a four-year-old, and so you think, I mean, since 2019, that's been a lot of time. It's been a labor of love. I was a high school principal going through this process as well. [04:57.7]

I think that there were moments, and I’m a sports guy, I played football in college, and there were moments where it just felt impossible and I was like, How are we going to get over this obstacle, and how are we going to persevere? I don't know, the word that comes to mind a lot is just grit. It's like there were a lot of late nights, things that people will never see. To me, internally, it's just a little more effort. We've come this far, a little more effort. How are we going to get to the next level? It’s just one foot in front of another and just kind of kept pushing.

When we got the no, quite frankly, I mean, this has been me my whole life, whether it was sports and school. It, frankly, just pissed me off a little bit when people would say you can't do something, and that just re-energized it, energized me. My wife and I, we sat down and I was like, What do you want to do? She just said, “You’ve come this far. Let's keep it going,” and that was all I needed to hear and just threw myself into it.

Yeah, I just feel so fortunate to be where we're at today and, honestly, it's the opportunity now to start doing what we set out to do, the real work, helping kids and graduating kids ready for both college and a career, helping our community.

Eric: What would you say were some of the key partnerships that you developed that helped to kind of tip the scale in your favor and move the ball forward? [06:04.3]

Kevin: I think, first and foremost, the Regional Builders’ Exchange. Our regional board president was Jordan Blair. Tim Murphy is our vice chair. Just the amount of connections that those guys have made, their organization, the time and energy, the conversations, I mean, we would not be here today without that organization. For them, they see this as a great opportunity to support all their members, a great opportunity to increase the pipeline into the trades, which, obviously, they're so focused on.

Additionally, I would say, bringing on political consultants. There are things that are happening in the background that no one here will know and I think one of the smartest things we did was we hired a political consultant, a former city council member, president, former president of Sac City unified school district and, man, he was able to really put us in touch with the people and have the conversations that we ultimately needed to get this over the finish line.

Eric: And why do you think the construction industry can benefit from your particular model that you're going to be executing on here? [07:01.0]

Kevin: That's an interesting point. I think that, actually, let me back up a step, when we were first here, in 2019, I think we were much more focused on carpentry, electrical, and plumbing. The models were brought, so it was worth going into that, but in regards of “Why is this needed?” I think, and I was seeing this as a high school teacher, by the time we get to high school, so many kids have already made up their mind that “There's only one route for me. It's college, college, college.”

The reality of it is that that's not the case—30% of California freshmen are going to get a college degree, so you've got 70% of school-age children that aren't going to get a college degree. Yet we have this narrative that's a one-size-fits-all approach.

The other thing that frustrates me, I'm from the east coast, we have vo-tech schools, and even at those programs, you're choosing a trade at the expense of college, and so we've really been intentional of building something where it's college and a career. It's based on student interest, student voice, student choice, and, ultimately, they leave ready for where their passion takes them.

Eric: What other areas have you got into besides carpentry, electrical, and plumbing? [07:59.2]

Kevin: Yeah, that's something I'm really excited about. I have to credit Caltrans quite a bit for this because they have this “adopt the school” model that they're revamping and they said, “This is exactly what we're looking for.” Caltrans, you can become an engineer without ever going to college. It's a state job. We could get a kid right out of high school, getting a state job, with a pathway to be an engineer.

This is what the school looks like now and this is I think a dramatic shift from the way most high schools are approaching CTE learning, career technical education. Most schools, regardless of the industry sector, are going to say, We have a three core sequence, sophomore, junior, senior year. We're going to get a young person through this pathway. They'll be ready to go into that career potentially or they at least have an understanding of that career.

Yet, when I was talking to business owners, executives, when I was presenting these boards, I was hearing this underlying frustration that not just high schools, but post-secondary institutions, community colleges, four-year institutions, were not able. They weren't nimble enough. They're not preparing a workforce for the reality of what the job is. [09:02.3]

To me, that said, how in the world are we as a school ever going to be able to do that? Right? It's impossible. So, the idea is we're just giving kids foundational skills, freshman, sophomore year, every kid, what we find are really life skills. OSHA certifications, CPR certification, hand tool certification, getting them really proficient in carpentry, electrical, and plumbing. Welding is built into that. Again, just a foundation. If a kid says, “Hey, I want to go be an engineer,” great, we've got a pathway for that. If we've got a kid that wants to go get into design, marketing, sales, at least you have a rudimentary understanding of what makes up the trades. Again, we see these as life skills.

How do we accomplish that? We have a career exploration freshman, sophomore year, where we have a career fair. Kids self-select the company that they want to go and job shadow at. Job shadows tend to be more palatable for most companies.

What that would look like is a kid goes, let's say, using the Caltrans example, they're going to go to Caltrans two weeks in each of the different departments throughout a semester, and you can imagine, again, all the things Caltrans does from engineers, low-voltage installation, material testing facility to the sales, human resource side of things. [10:09.4]

Suddenly, there's so much more to the construction industry, which you know, but I think to the layman, they hear construction and they think I'm just swinging a hammer. For the kids that are going through this career exploration, you do three rounds of that. Suddenly, they say, “Man, I hate doing this,” great, or, “I really, really like doing this thing.” They have a portfolio, so they're reflecting on those experiences. They're recording those experiences.

Then the idea by junior senior year, now we're going to move you into those internship, work-readiness training, and that's happening with an employer, because the employers are the ones that know how to train their workforce, so let's put kids in those opportunities that, again, is based on their interest and their passion.

Eric: I find that so interesting because one of the neat things I think in the construction industry is there's a wide spectrum of things that you can do, like you're saying, from the marketing side of the business to the sales side, to the project management, to the engineering, to the swinging the hammer on the job site, so there's that wide spectrum. I'm glad to hear that you are going into this with that perspective so it's not just strictly, you're going to get on a track and go out into the field necessarily, but if you want to do that, then we've got the tools to help you to get there. [11:13.2]

Kevin: And it was funny because speaking on the K–12 side to a lot of people, we say we're using the construction trades. We have pathways into engineering, architecture, and they say, What's your CTE pathway? and I’d say it's a different way of thinking and I’ll say it as former high school principal, as a teacher, well-intentioned CTE pathways, these ideas that schools are going to be rewarded for having CTE completers at three core sequence.

But, really, what that does for a lot of students is it disincentivizes them to explore and say, Kind of like this one, but now I want to jump over here. But if it's a three-year sequence, a kid has already done high school, so the school is going to say, No, you're going to finish up this pathway because we're rewarded by this, at least in the state of California, by our school indicator. That's why I think it's a different model. Again, our goal is everybody starts with the building trades’ pathway and then you go, branch out from there. [12:02.8]

Eric: And are you still going to be focusing on the 4+1 model?

Kevin: Yeah, absolutely. We got that approved. We've been working with a lot of community-based organizations on the education side, some of our industry partners, really to see what that +1 could look like. Ultimately, the idea is that a young person graduates high school. They get their high school diploma. Now I'm going to transition into an apprenticeship or I'm going to transition to a job, or I'm going to go to a four-year university.

So, the idea is that we bring these young people back to our campus. We hire them as mentors for younger students. They can see somebody who has gone through the program and then that student still has access if they've seen counselors, teaching staff, the supportive community they've developed over the last four years.

That just reminded me of another thing. I mean, the more that we've come out, and it's something that we haven't really touched on in our two conversations, the other thing that I think is really unique with the construction industry is that it's a family and we've heard that so much. [12:55.0]

Where we're located, we have the 49th 50 lowest median income neighborhoods. Even with inflation, the median income of families here is under $40,000. We have a lot of broken homes, a lot of societal challenges. What has been attractive to a lot of these young people is, man, here's a family. I can go on a job site and I can have a barbecue with this group. This is my sports team. This is my family that I'm going to be with, and that's been a big selling point for a lot of young people.

Eric: Yeah, it's tremendously helpful because, with that sense of family, that can really bring some stability in the communities that you're working in, which I think will be tremendously beneficial. What are your plans in terms of where the school can go? In five years’, 10 years’ time, where do you see the school and what you've accomplished at that point?

Kevin: I think that, at its core, we are a single school intensely focused on an industry sector. When I say “intensely focused”, it doesn't mean narrowly focused. It means that what we do in math, science, English, all has this construction thread running through it. [13:54.3]

Now, we've been having conversations as a board with some other educational entities, funding opportunities, to bring this model potentially through the central valley, and I think that if our hypothesis is correct, we do need to expand outside of the construction trades and put this into other industry sectors, say, in ag-tech, IT and computer science, healthcare, potentially.

So, when we talk about five years, our board is already having those discussions. It’s [about], what does the second iteration of CCCA look like? Is it another construction focused school in another part of California or a neighboring state, or do we start to dive into another industry sector?

I think there's also an opportunity, and this is a long-winded answer, but I think there's another opportunity when fully built out that you would have a K–8 middle school that's STEM-based, science, technology, engineering, and math. Kids explore. It's all hands on, and by middle school, at sixth- to eighth-grade range, you start to explore different careers. Then you have a menu of high schools that you could choose from. Here's the construction sector. Here's the healthcare sector. Now you have a K–12 network that can pipeline kids into a number of high-demand trades. [15:08.0]

Eric: It's so interesting to me because the model that you're describing, it's kind of old school, in the sense that, back in the day, a young person would decide on a trade relatively early in life. We're in this mindset now in America, where I'm not going to make any major decisions until I'm 22, 23, 24, and yet, that has not always been the case throughout human history. People are making choices at 10, 12, 13, 14 years old. I think it's interesting how you are encouraging that sort of mature reflection in young people.

Kevin: It's interesting, because, two things, from the industry lens, the average age of a beginning apprentice is 28 years old. That's 10 years of lost income, 10 more years of work before you could retire. I mean, there is a need to get kids early, right?

Then I think what we've heard from students and families, what I’ve seen as an educator, I think that there is power in young people's voice and ability, but we tend to shelter them so much and it's like, what happens at 18? We're going to flick a light switch and, suddenly, a kid is all-knowing and they're going to be fine in the world? [16:10.0]

Instead, what we've done is we've created a system where the exploration has been taken out of K–12. We’ve dropped the exploration in that 18- to 24-year-old range where kids are racking up debt. They have more responsibility. Now in their life, they're behind the eight ball right off the bat and schools have just stuck on this old system of, alright, we're in rows, here's your English, here's your math. My God, if the pandemic taught us anything, it's that we’ve got to rethink education.

Eric: Yeah, that's interesting, just that one word, “exploration” and giving people that opportunity to get out of the box a little bit, and I think that's so important and I could see how that would be challenging because you are doing that exploration piece within the system of the schools and it's, it's tough to do when you're in the system.

Kevin: I had this conversation just recently. I think that, as a team, I know I certainly feel that we're in this amazing space right now. We’ve got the charter approved. We're just under about 12 months from opening and we've got this amazing model, this amazing concept, industry partners, community partners, and there's this responsibility, right, that we’ve got to get it right. [17:17.0]

With that being said, what an amazing opportunity to rethink education. It is so hard, again, coming from a former teacher, a former principal, to have these, and I think this is with any company and organization, when you're just going through the motions. You're doing okay. We're surviving. You get kind of stuck in this trajectory. By starting at the ground up, I mean, you have this amazing chance to just think outside the box, do things differently, and start the culture the way that you want it from day one. Yeah, what an opportunity. I remember early on, and this was probably 2017, 2018, an individual said that starting this school is a once in a lifetime chance and he was like, It's a ride, but if you can do it, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Eric: As you're getting started here, what do you think are going to be the biggest obstacles in the next year before the first class comes in in 2023? [18:06.6]

Kevin: I say this a little tongue in cheek, but I imagine many of your listeners, people in the building industry, man, just getting through city permits, my gosh. We're building out a building and going through the conditional-use permit. We’ve got a great team working on that, but, man, nothing goes quick, especially coming out of the pandemic. I recognize the city has got significant turnover on their own end and staffing is difficult, but, yeah, I mean, just getting everything through the permits, getting shovels in the ground, and then ultimately just getting kids.

What we've seen through our youth events is, as soon as kids come in, they participate. They engage with our activities. They're excited. They want to come to this school, and so it's just making that initial connection and getting their foot in the door, and really seeing what we're about and what we’re doing.

Eric: On what basis are you going to be selecting the kids, the first class? How are you going to be doing that selection?

Kevin: We're a free public charter school. Something that I'm also really, really interested in and I also think that it is fascinating, for those that maybe have misconceptions about charters, my stepson, he's in an I.B. program, comprehensive high school down the road, very rigorous. He had to apply to get into that I.B. program. [19:11.2]

As a charter school, we are open to anybody that applies. We can't say, “Oh, no, you don't have the grades. You can't come in.” Any student can apply to our campus. Actually, if there are more students that apply than we have seats available, then we have a lottery system and we build in preferences for students that are on free and reduced-price lunch, students that are first in their family to go to college, and so really trying to be mindful of our community. In terms of the kids that we're looking for, kids that just want to be creative, work with their hands, tinkerers, builders, and that's the type of school that this is.

Eric: That's excellent. We know that there's contractors listening to this all over the country and I know, in talking to contractors, many of them are like, Man, I wish I had something like this in my area. If I'm a construction leader, I own a construction company, and I want to be able to see something like your school in my area, what are some steps I can take right away to begin to move that ball forward? Because I know it's kind of a heavy ball to move. [20:07.7]

Kevin: Yeah. I was really encouraged. I heard just this week that one of the local school districts was reaching out to a number of industry partners and saying “Hey, how do we get more internships? How do we get kids on job sites?” I think I would like to think that we’ve played some small role in others saying, You know what? There might be something to this.

In terms of actionable items, I think starting with organizations, like the Regional Builders’ Exchange here in Sacramento, they run their construction industry education foundation; they have competitions; and so finding ways to connect with high schools, connect with young people.

I think there are opportunities if you want to go out and start a school, I think going to a district office or the county office of education and saying, Hey, are any schools interested in maybe exploring this more? I think that our model could work in a comprehensive high school. I think that high school just needs to be broken into smaller academies, where, at that academy, all our math, all our English, all our history runs, as this thread, running through it. There are a lot of opportunities. [21:06.1]

Also, anybody on the West Coast that's interested, give us a call, because that's something that we've discussed. What are the next steps for CCCA? What's the next iteration? I'm happy to talk with anybody, to be honest, and share the hoops and hurdles we've gone through.

Eric: That's great. I'll put your contact information then into the show notes, just so that everyone can get that and get in touch with you if they'd like to do that.

Kevin: Awesome.

Eric: Kevin, I really, really appreciate your time. As you've gone through this process, what would you say is the biggest lesson you've learned on the journey to getting the charter approved?

Kevin: We might need to do a whole other segment on all those lessons, but I think one of the things, somewhat unintentionally, I think there is a lot of power in industry. In terms of overcoming political hurdles, we went about this the right way. Again, I think somewhat acknowledging, somewhat unintentionally, but we brought in major players in the industry very early on in the process, and so as we came up against some of those political hurdles, they were to say, “No, this is something that we want. We need to make this happen,” and that helped us navigate through some of those challenges. [22:10.8]

I think one of the big lessons I’ve learned is that industry has a great amount of impact on the landscape of education, and then the other thing, this is why I'm a teacher, this is why I'm in education. It's just the amount of hope that I have when I'm around young people, their willingness to do better, to, really, do well for their families. It's something that I’ve seen time and again, the exposure to these opportunities are life-changing for young people. I mean, that's what we're all about, and so how do we put young people with industry partners?

Eric: Awesome. Kevin, I'm so pleased that you've gone through this process. I'm so pleased that Capital College and Career Academy has gotten chartered. I'm really looking forward to what you guys are going to be doing in the next five to 10 years, and we're going to have you back on the show to get another update here in a couple of years. Thanks again for joining us on Construction Genius here today.

Kevin: Absolutely. Two to three years from now, let's do the podcast on our site with kids, construction happening, good. [23:04.5]

Eric: I love that. That's a great idea. We'll definitely have to do that. Thank you for suggesting that.

Kevin: Absolutely. Yeah, thank you, Eric. Always great catching up, and I appreciate you having us on again.

Eric: My pleasure.
Hey, this is Eric. Before you jet off, thank you for listening to my interview with Kevin. As we mentioned during our discussion, he's very much open to chatting with people and giving them some feedback on what he's been doing to get the academy up and running. Particularly, if you're on the West Coast, feel free to reach out to him. His contact information is in the show notes.

Thanks again for listening to Construction Genius, and we will catch you on the next episode.

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