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Partners pledge support for aerospace, maritime school

CMSD’s new Davis Aerospace and Maritime High School will introduce students to those two industries, and the industries are prepared to welcome them with open arms.

Big-name community partners enthusiastically pledged their support Tuesday when the school was officially announced by the District and PHASTAR, a nonprofit organization that has spent five years researching and refining the school concept.

Davis Davis Aerospace and Maritime will open next school year with ninth-graders and add a grade level in each of the three following years. More than 50 people gathered downtown Tuesday in the lobby of a Lakeside Avenue building that Davis A&M will share with the Cleveland High School for Digital Arts.

Rear Admiral June Ryan, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Cleveland-based 9th District, told the audience that she hopes to make Davis Aerospace and Maritime home to the Coast Guard’s second Junior ROTC program nationwide and turn the school into a feeder system for that branch of the military. She said later that she also would like to give students a close look at Coast Guard vessels and aircraft.

“I want to put them on ships,” said Ryan, who oversees an eight-state region and 1,500 miles of international border. “Our nearest helicopter is in Detroit, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get a helicopter down here and show them what helicopter folks do.”

The school is named for Benjamin O. Davis Jr., a Cleveland school district graduate who led the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II and was the Air Force’s first African-American general. CMSD also operated an aviation school named for Davis at Burke Lakefront Airport until closing the school for financial reasons in the 1990s.

Fred Szabo is Cleveland’s interim director of port control, placing him in charge of two airports and lakefront municipal property. He promised to commit time and resources to the school, which he said will include playing a role in instruction.

The school’s founders want it to be as close as possible to Lake Erie and Burke. Szabo said the city has plans for the old aviation high school, but he will work to find space for Davis A&M at the airport.

The Lake Carriers’ Association represents 14 companies plying the Great Lakes with 56 vessels that Thomas Rayburn, director of environmental and regulatory affairs, said rate as “some of the most advanced, if not the most advanced” in the U.S. fleet. He said the association views the school as a pipeline that can help replenish the companies' aging labor force.

“One of the big issues for us is finding quality people and retaining them,” Rayburn said. 

Details are still being worked out, but the vision for the school calls for supplementing a core STEM (science, technology, mathematics and engineering) curriculum with technical and other studies – for example, airport management or marine biology – related to the aerospace and maritime industries. Graduates will be able to go on to college or use industry certification to start a career.

PHASTAR will oversee the school’s specialty programming. The group’s president, D. Andrew Ferguson, is a medical air service pilot who got hooked on his career after using a flight simulator as a student at University School.

“I was the kid we’re going after,” said Ferguson, who is now 40. “I was drawn in and wanted to pursue aviation at a young age.”

Representatives of PHASTAR and the District visited other industry-themed schools, including the New York Harbor School, Raisbeck Aviation High School near Seattle, the Maritime Academy of Toledo and West Michigan Aviation Academy.

The Cleveland Plan, a customized blueprint for education reform in the city, calls for providing a variety of school options so students and families can find the right fit.

CMSD started actively developing a portfolio of school models in 2006 with the opening of John Hay Campus schools devoted to science and medicine, architecture and design and early-college studies.

The District now offers a long list of choices that focus on STEM, the arts, single-gender education, career-technical fields and more. Major corporate and institutional partners support the schools in a variety of ways.

Davis Aerospace and Maritime High School is one of six new high school models CMSD will open next year.