The Washington Post

New workforce development center opens in Northeast Washington

Students Tawana Rose, left, and Maral Balayan, prepare food for the opening reception at Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School in Northeast. (Jeffrey MacMillan/For The Washington Post)

The Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School on Wednesday opened a 50,000-square-foot workforce development campus in Northeast Washington, an expansion that allows the adult education center to provide job training to more low-income District residents.

The new facility will serve more than 500 students on any given day. And like Carlos Rosario’s existing school on Harvard Street NW, it will focus on serving immigrant students.

Allison Kokkoros, the school’s chief academic officer, said the programs at the center have been carefully designed with an eye toward economic realities: They want to prepare students for jobs that are in high demand in the Washington area and to focus on fields where there is room for students to advance up a career ladder and eventually earn higher wages.

With those conditions top of mind, they’ve concentrated their efforts on three programs: culinary arts, health care and information technology support.

“We are always asking the question: Are we aligned with what employers need?” Kokkoros said.

To achieve that synergy, Carlos Rosario created corporate advisory boards for each of its programs. The boards are comprised of experts and employers in that sector who offer guidance about what skills are most critical.

One clear instance of the boards’ influence is “The Bistro,” a room in the culinary arts space that is set up like a restaurant. Employers said they increasingly wanted back-of-house staff to be able to perform front-of-house tasks in a pinch. So now, in addition to learning knifework and other food preparation skills in the state-of-the-art kitchen, culinary students must practice skills such as serving wine or taking dinner orders.

Students at Carlos Rosario often face dual challenges: Not only are they trying to learn a new career, they are often trying to learn English. The school aims to support its students through all steps of that process.

Fredy Reyes, for example, first came to Carlos Rosario in 2009 when he arrived in the United States from Cuba. He didn’t speak English, but the school helped him find work as a dishwasher at Chipotle. As he moved through the school’s English language program, he was promoted at Chipotle to cashier, manager and finally general manager. Now, he’s taking classes at Carlos Rosario’s new facility to train for a nurse’s aide certification.

“I got everything I need here,” Reyes said.

With the opening of the campus in Northeast, school leaders say they plan to keep their most basic orientation classes and literacy classes at the Harvard Street school. The new facility, known as the Sonia Gutierrez campus, will house the job training programs and more intermediate language classes.

Jorge Delgado, the principal of the new school, said Carlos Rosario uses a highly data-driven approach to assessing the outcomes of the programs. For example, the school tracks whether its students pass a certification test or get placed in a job, and it follows up with them over time to see if they are able to hang on to that position or advance to a more skilled one.

Data, too, will continue to shape Carlos Rosario’s course offerings.

“If we find there’s another area where there’s demand, we turn on a dime,” Kokkoros said.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.



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