Four Rochester organizations are moving forward with the new project that would give high school students a leg-up upon graduation while also creating a talent pipeline for two of the largest employers in the area.

The Rochester School Board signed an agreement on Tuesday for the creation of a “P-Tech School.” The program will allow students to gain either medical or technical skills while in high school. Representatives from Mayo, IBM and Rochester Community and Technical College also signed the agreement.

It is reportedly the first such program in Minnesota.

“I think it’s these types of partnerships and this kind of creative problem solving -- creating brand new solutions -- that makes Rochester and Rochester Public Schools world class,” School Board member Melissa Amundsen said.

According to the agreement, the program will have five core components:

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1. That it provide “rigorous, relevant and cost-free education” focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

2. That it include mentoring by industry professionals, worksite visits, speakers and internships.

3. That it include “individualized academic support” allowing students “to progress through the program at their own pace.”

4. That it provide an opportunity to earn an associate's degree.

5. That students who complete the program be first in line to receive a job with one of the participating companies, meaning Mayo or IBM.

According to Ryannon Frederick, chief nursing officer for Mayo, there are 100 open nursing positions at the clinic in southeast Minnesota. That has been the case, she said, for the last four years. While the program will benefit students, Frederick spoke briefly about how it’s also a way to develop upcoming talent for Mayo’s needs.

“We are so excited for a fresh new wave of practical nurses that will be able to join our workforce once they complete this program,” Frederick said.

The first set of students will begin the program in the fall of 2021. Superintendent Michael Muñoz said students will be selected based on a lottery system. However, some factors that may affect those chances.

“Categories that a student falls under give them more opportunities in the drawing,” Muñoz said.

He also said the program "serves students from historically under-represented backgrounds."

At the same time, the number of students accepted into the program will grow beyond its initial limitations. At first, it will allow up to 30 students in each of the two pathways. The agreement says it will admit 60 additional students a year until the school reaches its full capacity of 360 in 2026-27.

Rochester Public Schools received a $1 million grant from the Legislature to create the program and Muñoz said funding has been guaranteed for at least the next six years.

Still, School Board member Julie Workman expressed some concern, considering the state's fiscal position.

“As a board, I don’t think we should take it for granted that that funding will be there, because we will be facing some considerable budget issues from the state as the state looks to figure out how to deal with any budget deficits,” she said.