The Appleton Technical Academy was created in response to a need for workers to fill the growing demand for advanced manufacturing positions in Northeast Wisconsin. The manufacturing environment in the region is strong and growing. Additionally, as more and more baby boomers retire, businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to find qualified workers to replace the retirees.
Jared Bailin, President of Eagle Supply and Plastics, expressed his concern for qualified workers to Greg Hartjes, Principal of West High School. A series of meetings ensued, which led to a request for a planning grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, which was received in the fall of 2013.
The planning process involved participation from businesses, Appleton Area School District (AASD) administrative staff, and technical education instructors. Visits were made to other successful technical high schools in Wisconsin and other states. The Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce assisted in identifying best-in-class schools.
A charter school structure was chosen to enable the development of a “hands-on” learning approach and a curriculum that aligned more closely with the expectations of the local manufacturing community. The charter school designation allows A-Tech to be an AASD school, but also allows for the structural autonomy needed. It was also clear that a strong partnership with Fox Valley Technical College would be needed to help students continue their career preparation following high school.
As a part of a branding process the Appleton Technical Academy was named and a logo was created using A-Tech as a ready identifier of the school. A goal of recruiting 40 students for the 2014-15 academic year was set and quickly met during the February-March enrollment period.
In February of 2014 the voters of the AASD approved a referendum which provided for the renovation and updating of the technical education area at West High School where A-Tech is located. Another DPI grant was awarded for implementation of the school. New equipment, curriculum materials, supplies, and other items were purchased. All this provided a fresh, clean, up-to-date learning environment for students.
The 2014-15 school year resulted in 15 graduates, of whom 12 enrolled in technical college, one enrolled in a 4-year college, one entered the military, and one entered the workforce. Enrollment for the 2015-16 school year is 78 students — almost double the previous year.