Desktop PCs bring fast times to New Tech High

Desktop PCs bring fast times to New Tech High

By Trudy Walsh

GCN Staff

New Technology High School lies nestled in the sunny valleys of Napa, Calif. But with a 1-to-1 student-to-PC ratio, the school of 220 seems more like a high-tech start-up than a typical California high school, Mark Morrison, the school's director, said.

The school even looks like a technology think tank. Designed by SGI, the building has deep purple walls, blue carpeting and lots of windows. No bells ring to summon students to the next class.

Only juniors and seniors attend the magnet school. Students have to have at least a C average and have passed Algebra I by 10th grade to be admitted. A significant percentage of the students come from low-income families, Morrison said, and almost 40 percent of the school's students are from minority groups.

Every part of the curriculum'including course syllabi, projects and timelines'is shared online in Lotus Notes. Grades, homework assignments and due dates are posted on the school Web site, at www.nths.nvusd.k12.ca.us. And students are required to master Microsoft's Office suite.

Students work at their own pace, Morrison said. The curriculum is a combination of solo assignments and three-student team projects.

The Notes system really pays dividends when a student is out sick, Morrison said. The student can still do collaborative work from home using Lotus Notes.

The old excuse of 'the dog ate my homework' is a lot more difficult to prove in a wired school. Notes' timeline feature ensures that everyone knows when homework is due. Textbooks are few. Most research is performed over the Web.

The school's LAN runs Lotus server software over a 6000 series switch from Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif. Students and faculty access the Web via a Cisco 2600 DS1 router. The school runs a Cisco academy, in partnership with the nearby North Bay Regional Cisco Academy. Students can train to be Cisco certified network associates. New Technology High School also is a demonstration site for Cisco's IP telephony, which lets students and staff run data, voice and video over the school's LAN. 'This time next year I'll be listening to my e-mail,'' Morrison said.

All students are required to take math, science, social studies and new media, a course that combines principles of design with graphics software and Web applications. Each student graduates with a digital portfolio, Morrison said.

Before they graduate, students also are required to achieve what Morrison calls the eight learning outcomes: technological literacy, collaboration, critical thinking, oral communication, written communication, citizenship and ethics, career preparation, and curricular literacy. In their two years at the school, students have to prove that they've met expectations in each of these areas. A committee of jurors checks each student's portfolio for evidence of success.

In the graphics-intensive new media class, students use Hewlett-Packard 733-MHz Kay-ak PCs with 128M of RAM, Pentium III pro-cessors and 9G hard drives. The school has 50 of these, each loaded with Adobe Photoshop and Web authoring tools from Macromedia Inc. of San Francisco.

Morrison described some interesting side benefits of the school's techno-curriculum. Students are more focused, he said. In four years, there has not been one fight in the school. And despite all the expensive equipment, there has not been one theft.

'I think we've instilled a sense of pride in these students,' Morrison said. The results are startling: test scores are among the highest in northern California. Ninety percent of the students attend post-secondary schools; graduates have been accepted at schools such as Brown University, Vassar College, University of California at both Berkeley and Davis campuses, and California Polytechnic State University.

Morrison attributes part of the school's success to its sense of community. 'We call it a high-tech, high-touch learning environment. The student-teacher ratio is 24-to-1.'

But New Technology High is not all routers and PowerPoint slides. Fully accredited, the school hosts a senior prom and inspires jokes about the cafeteria food. Because the student population is so small, the school doesn't have competitive athletic teams, although it does have intramural sports, Morrison said. 'But the kids who come here weren't the rah-rah types to start with.'

Spare change

Every year school officials buy 100 new PCs, so no PC is more than 2 years old. But this high-technology education comes at no extra cost to parents. The school's goal is to raise $250,000 annually. It has several fund-raising efforts:

•'Renting the school's videoconferencing center to local businesses

•'Training other schools to integrate technology into their academic program

•'Sending students to local businesses as Web designers through a virtual enterprise program called Tech Informa. Students earn up to $500 for each Web page they build.

'It's been a passion of mine to raise the money so we can continue to attract low-income kids and bridge the digital divide,' Morrison said.

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