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Officials view New Tech at work in N.C. high school
(First in a series)
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Anson New Tech High School freshmen Zach Herms (from left), Max Martin and Zack Ricketts discuss, among other things, contracts students sign spelling out their duties on group projects. The students are making a presentation to visitors from Henry County Schools and Lexington School District Two in West Columbia, S.C. (Bulletin photo by Paul Collins)

Sunday, April 7, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

(Editor’s note: This is the first article in a series of stories on Anson New Tech High School in North Carolina. It is a demonstration school for the type of program Henry County Schools expect to implement in the fall at Magna Vista High School.)

Tenth-grader Tatyana Franklin describes Anson New Tech High School in Wadesboro, N.C., as “more like a family” than a traditional high school.

Some Anson students said it is harder to earn good grades at the New Tech school, and they have more responsibilities than their peers.

But at the same time, students said the school has reduced their shyness, improved their self-confidence, and is helping improve their chances of getting into and completing college.

Henry County schools officials are planning to start a New Tech school-within-a-school at Magna Vista High School next fall. Some of those officials recently toured the Anson New Tech High School, which is about 55 miles east of Charlotte.

There are about 120 New Tech schools (in 18 U.S. states — but not Virginia — and one in Australia), according to the New Tech Network (NTN) website. NTN is a nonprofit school development organization that guides schools in planning, starting, running and continually innovating a New Tech school.

What is New Tech?

The first New Tech high school was founded in 1996 in Napa, Calif., when local business leaders, frustrated by the lack of skilled graduates ready for college or the workplace, came together with the idea of starting a school that would teach the skills needed to thrive in the new economy, according to the NTN website.

Project-based learning is at the heart of NTN’s instructional approach, according to the website. Students learn through doing projects on a specific issue or challenge. The students work in groups, and teachers guide them along. Projects require problem solving, critical thinking and communication.

Technology plays a key role in the instructional approach.

“All classrooms have a one-to-one computing ratio (a computer for every student),” the NTN website states. “With access to web-enabled computers and the latest in collaborative learning technology, every student becomes a self-directed learner who no longer needs to rely on teachers or textbooks for knowledge and direction. We use Echo, an online learning management system to create a vibrant network which helps students, teachers, and parents connect to each other, and to student projects across the country.”

Also, each New Tech school maintains a culture that promotes trust, respect and responsibility. Working on projects and in teams, students are accountable to their peers and acquire a level of responsibility similar to what they would experience in a professional work environment, the website states.

Anson New Tech

Anson New Technology High School has about 140 students in grades 9-12, according to school officials and the school’s website.

It opened as a New Tech Network school in 2007 and at first was on a campus shared with a traditional high school in Wadesboro. Now it is on another campus across town in which it shares the cafeteria and gym with Wadesboro Elementary School, according to information on the NTN website and Anson New Tech personnel.

The Anson County School District was in “district improvement status” for several years before and after Anson New Tech opened for failing to make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to N.C. district and school report cards.

Improvement status means measures must be taken to improve performance. In 2006-07, the year before Anson New Tech opened, the district was in improvement status and four of its 10 schools were in improvement status. Only three district schools made AYP that year.

In contrast, Anson New Tech made AYP three of the first four years it was open (not in 2010-11), and it was not in school improvement status any of those years.

In 2011-12, the U.S. Department of Education granted North Carolina’s waiver request from some of the requirements of No Child Left Behind. Beginning that year, AYP was not reported for schools, but the number of Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) for each school and the number and percent of AMOs met for each school were reported. In 2011-12, Anson New Tech met 66.7 percent of its AMOs.

Learning at Anson

New Tech

According to Anson New Tech’s website, project-based learning begins by identifying an authentic, genuine issue of importance in the world and then working to solve it, according to the school’s website. Grading at the school is broken down into eight learning outcomes: work ethic, collaboration, written and oral communication, global awareness, technology, literacy, content proficiency (content knowledge and skills) and critical thinking.

On the day that the delegation from Henry County Schools toured Anson New Tech, there also was a delegation from Lexington School District Two in West Columbia, S.C., at the school. Kristin Cuilla, director of new school development for New Tech Network (NTN), and Chris Stinson, director (principal) of Anson New Tech, made comments and answered questions; students made presentations, answered questions and led school tours; and there were panel discussions.

Some students at the school said they were apprehensive or didn’t like Anson New Tech at first, and the first months were difficult. But they now believe Anson New Tech is better preparing them for the real world than traditional schools, whether preparing them for postsecondary education or work, they said.

Some students said good grades are harder to earn at Anson New Tech than at traditional schools they had attended. Some said they have to take on a greater level of responsibility at Anson New Tech because in doing group projects, each participant has to sign a contract detailing his duties. If a member fails to fulfill his duties, he or she can be fired from the group and have to start over doing the work individually.

Freshman Max Martin admitted to the visitors that he played around on the computer too much in his first semester, but he never was fired from a project group, and now he is more serious about his projects.

Some students said having to work with a variety of students on projects — even students they may not like — and the possibility of being fired are like a real workplace.

Some students said having to do presentations on projects has reduced their shyness, improved their self-confidence, and will better prepare them for college.

Franklin, the tenth-grader, and some other students said teachers spend a lot of time working with students when they need help.

Stinson said too often in schools, educators “are slowing the pace.” He advocates educators letting go of control, getting out of the way and guiding students from behind.

“Through extensive professional development and hands-on coaching, New Tech teachers evolve from keepers of knowledge to facilitators of rich, relevant learning,” the NTN network says.

At Anson New Tech, for instance, some students have developed business plans for projects that bankers in the community have said were better than ones they have seen developed by adults, Stinson said. He added that the school strives to involve the community in projects as much as possible.

Projects have included using math principles to design and build a kite that will be entered into competition and designing a roller-coaster; researching foreign cultures to develop a typical day for a 9-year-old, 25-year-old and an elderly person; comparing how the history of the 1920s influenced the writing of “The Great Gatsby”; and creating a newspaper based on the events of “Romeo and Juliet,” among others.

Construction is under way on campus for facilities for school agribusinesses, school officials said. They will be operated by students.

The Anson Record has reported that Anson Tech had been conducting a schoolwide project called “Living Off the Land 2” in which students were creating their own agribusinesses with the goal of creating a company to enable New Tech to be self-sustaining. In one project, students were divided onto groups and given a box with half a dozen chicks to raise.

Achievements at Anson

Anson New Tech and New Tech Network officials told some student turn-around stories. One was a girl who got pregnant in the 10th grade and had a child, went on to graduate as valedictorian and now is in college. Another student frequently was in trouble in middle school but went on to present at a national conference as a student at Anson New Tech.

Alyson Wint, who teaches Spanish, English, creative writing and yearbook, said she has seen dramatic improvements in some of her students’ end-of-course test results at Anson New Tech. Teaching students to think critically, solve problems and work collaboratively is far superior to teaching through rote memorization, said Wint, who taught at a traditional school for three years.

“For real world, I’d much prefer this,” she added.

(NEXT: Assessing New Tech education.)


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