Innovation Series: Independence School District Academies are bridging the gap between classroom and career!!


I recently had an invitation to tour All Things Independence. This store is home base for The Academies of Independence School District‘s Marketing and Business Management pathway. According to the district literature, “The Academies of the ISD are personalized learning communities, guiding all ISD students toward college and career success.”  After connecting with Dr. Brad MacLaughlin, we set up a tour date and I went to see what all of the excitement was about. For the Marketing and Business Management pathway, students have the opportunity to spend their junior and senior year running small businesses. They can work in graphic design, data analysis, or management to name  few options. These students do not just learn theory, they get hands on practice by running All Things Independence and Taste of Independence. They also help create merchandise for all school stores and help to run small kiosks located across school campuses.

The wondrous thing about the program is that this ISD Career Academies Business Management and Marketing pathway demonstrates what happens when business and education co-mingle in the best way. Students, in their own words, don’t just learn content they get to try what they are learning in the real world. Students do not have to have a certain gpa to qualify. All a child has to do is to complete the needed prerequisite courses and he or she can be admitted to the Business Management and Marketing capstone experience which involves leaving school to work at All Things Independence and Taste of Independence. In my opinion, the Independence School District is really setting an example for other districts to follow by allowing students direct ownership of all parts of the process and putting them in front of businesses leaders to complete real work.

“With changing workforce needs, we cannot afford to let kids opt out of choosing a pathway. The power of this is giving students choice and letting them own it. Teachers are the conduit.” -Dr. Brad MacLaughlin


This is the current student manager of All Things Independence. Here she tells how students are graded for their work in the program.

The Academies of ISD currently have more than 30 career pathways for students to choose from all organized under different strands (including Business, STEM, Industrial Technology, Arts & Education, and Public Service) and complete with a capstone experience. Clarifying and simplifying the journey from classroom to the real world is something that has become a real focus in education. We all want to be sure that students leave high school “college and career ready”. To do so effectively, we may do well to follow the model set out by The Academies of ISD. In brief and based on my talks with students, Dr. MacLaughlin, and Cindy Schluckebier (the teacher who helps run the capstone experience at All Things Independence and Taste of Independence) the following were done well and are a part of the reason for the success of the program:

  1. Initial Data Analysis and information gathering
    • According to Dr. MacLaughlin the idea for career pathways was rolled out well before full implementation. District leaders came together to look at workforce development data and speak with business and community stakeholders about workforce needs. In doing so, they worked to pinpoint areas where there was [or will be] a shortage of skilled workers and then took that information and used it to design career pathways. Listening to business and community leaders about their needs helped create opportunities for needed partnerships to keep the program alive.
  2. Buy In
    • “These were an engagement tool and a way to get to talk to students who might otherwise do nothing in school.-Cindy Schluckebier Students buy into the career pathway process because they have choice. In fact, their schedules are organized in such a way that if they are interested they can complete more than one pathway before graduation. This introduction of choice does mimic the real world and off site opportunities give students the chance to practice in a profession before fully committing to it.  Students also receive elective credits for these capstone experiences and certificates demonstrating their expertise where applicable.
  3. Partnership
    • The Academies of ISD have partnered with Youth Entrepreneurs to create curriculum that is applicable and engaging for students. Because the curriculum and expectations are first explained to students during their All Things Independence and Taste of Independence summer session, they begin the Fall with a clear vision of success and a plan of action. They begin planning Fall sales and marketing from day one of Summer Session and continue through the school year using customer data as their guide. Students from Truman High School, Van Horn High School, and William Chrisman High school all are able to complete their Business Managment and Marketing capstone at these two businesses (among others). As a result of being sent to a common location with a shared curriculum, all students in this career pathway are able to have a consistent experience district wide.
  4. Accountability
    • Cindy Schluckebier has designed a badging system for students to use to demonstrate their professional growth (see the video above if you missed that). Students are allowed to create digital portfolios of their work. They meet formally with “Mrs. S” each semester and self report on their work while supporting their thinking with project examples and well crafted narratives designed to show their mastery of a skill. I have never seen a system so “employee” driven, equitable, and easy to maneuver. After owning their learning in this way students exit the program ready to begin businesses of their own or manage existing businesses after college. One student in particular (featured top left) has already opened his own graphic design company before he finished his senior year of high school!

The Academies of ISD are proof that the future is now. While so many of us are looking for a way to connect businesses to the classroom outside of a specialized model Independence is doing it every day. Students are being challenged, recognized, and affirmed in their thinking. The result is an entrepreneurship culture that is contagious and hard to discount. If you are reading this and thinking of bringing career pathways to your building do yourself a favor and take a tour of All Things Independence. You can stop for a sweet treat at Taste of Independence when you are finished. Both are evidence that when given both guidance and freedom, our students are capable of more than we may think.

-Dr. Kia


Support the student run businesses mentioned in this blog!! Please visit and tell them Dr. Kia sent you!

All Things Independence  215 N Main St, Independence, MO 64050

To see videos of students telling their ISD Academies stories PLUS more pics FOLLOW ME ON INSTAGRAM @drkiacoaches