A Technology High School with Business in Mind

Article excerpt

Most schools at least give lip service to the needs of business. Many educational programs have business advisory committees and some, with varying degrees of success, seek to match student learning outcomes to business standards or use the workplace for student learning.

One public school district, Napa Valley Unified School District (Napa, California), took these efforts a giant step forward by partnering with over 40 hightech businesses (such as Lotus/IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Silicon Graphics) and public agencies to design and build a new high school. The result, New Technology High School, is a school where every student:

* Uses fully networked computers as a key learning tool.

* Must successfully complete at least four college classes before graduation.

* Takes college "prep" courses and has multiple opportunities to accelerate learning.

* Prepares for a college education or to enter the work force.

* Chooses a program major to prepare for a high-skilled job.

* Earns credit by meeting performance standards.

* Has the opportunity to take specialized courses at other district high schools.

* Works in a learning environment similar to a business environment.

* Successfully completes a series of internships in the community.

* Learns academics in an applied, interdisciplinary manner.

* Has a staff advisor who monitors academic progress, skill mastery, attendance and community internships.

The Beginnings

Four years ago Napa's school officials looked at the projections for enrollment growth and concluded that Napa would either have to add more portable classrooms to the existing campuses of its already overcrowded high schools, or consider opening a new high school. For a district with funding well below the national average, either option would be very difficult.

To explore these options, a community Feasibility Committee was appointed. The Feasibility Committee comprised 35 business leaders, teachers, parents and students.

It was asked to respond to three questions:

* Is a new high school with a different program focus necessary?

* If so, where should it be located?

* Can the district afford it? After a series of study sessions and much debate, the Feasibility Committee recommended that a new high school with a technology focus be developed on a campus separate from the campuses of the two existing high schools. The committee, however, was not able to make recommendations relative to costs and budgets until additional financial data was generated.

The District's Board of Education accepted these recommendations and authorized a Planning Committee to prepare instructional goals, curriculum, facility, funding and staffing plans. Before even considering the technology and equipment needs of the new school, the Planning Committee worked hard to develop a clear educational vision: "In cooperation with businesses, parents and community agencies, New Technology High School will prepare each student to enter a high-technology career and/or a college program."

The educational vision for Napa Valley's New Technology High School encompasses more than just curriculum, however, as the following summary indicates. Computer and telecommunications technologies will be used and taught in work-like situations. Learning will occur with the assistance of community members, at work sites, and by the use of electronic networks. Curriculum will adapt to changes in employment trends and requirements. Both students and staff will engage in continuous training to upgrade their technology skills. Curriculum and student-performance standards will determine staffing patterns and course schedules. Each student will be assigned a staff advisor who will monitor the student's academic progress, attendance, community internships and post-secondary planning. …