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By Phil D’Amico, director of business growth, The Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County
Former C.E.O. of General Electric, Jack Welch, once said, “Willingness to change is a strength, even if it means plunging part of the organization into total confusion for a while.” Change is exactly what our educational system requires to transform a community in economic development and workforce readiness.
We must find ways to better connect with our K-12 students; we also must find new ways to inspire, challenge and motivate students to want to attain success in school. Not all kids learn the same way today as we did as students. Tony Bennett, Ph.D., superintendent of public instruction for Indiana, recently stated, “If Rip Van Winkle fell asleep in 1950, and awoke today, the only thing that would be the same would be our educational system.”
|Phil D’Amico, director of business growth, The Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County|
The New Technology High School is a model that can help reform our educational outcomes. The New Tech model started in 1996 in Napa, Calif. Many influential business leaders in that community got together and decided that far too many students were graduating unprepared for life after school and for jobs in the 21st century. As a result, the community and its leaders created a school where students would gain the necessary experience that would allow them to survive and thrive in a global and digital economy. Now, nearly 15 years later, there are over 50 New Technology High Schools throughout the United States. Superintendent Bennett also stated, “Today’s education is still a ‘Flintstones’ curriculum, in a ‘Jetsons’ economy.” The translation: we better start preparing our students for the real world or the world will pass us by.
Currently, Indiana ranks 35th in the nation when it comes to adults with an associate’s degree, and 47th in the nation with the number of adults who have earned a bachelor’s degree. Every year, over 20,000 Hoosier students drop out of school. Simply put, we have somewhere along the line lost a student’s desire to learn. We are not challenging them to think globally, or we have not allowed them to create and invent.
The New Technology High School is a revolutionary way of teaching and learning. It is a whole new mind-set that allows student to show their inner creativity. You won’t find rows of chairs or desks, or even a podium for a teacher to stand at. You may find a classroom looking like a Starbucks more than a school. Students are given real world projects to work on as a team, and often find themselves working in a setting that is not much different than what we would find in a global, world-class company. You’ll typically find large open spaces that fit a collaborative style of learning. You will also find teachers directly in the middle of the team projects, on the floor, coaching andmentoring more than teaching. Students are encouraged to run their group project like a work team that you may find in your office. There is also a one-to-one computer-to-student ratio that strongly incorporates a technology-based learning. It is not uncommon to co-teach subjects like history and English in the same course, and it is very common to teach math and English in the same class. All students have a written and verbal presentation on all projects that they complete. Public speaking and communication are vital components to a New Technology High School class. Students have strict deadlines on their projects, again, not too dissimilar from each of us. Early college courses also play a role in a New Tech diploma. All students are required to complete at least 12 college credit hours before they graduate.
There is a video out right now called, “Two Million Minutes.” This chronicles the high school careers, from grades 9-12 (hence the total is two million minutes), of four students. Two students are the valedictorian and salutatorian from Carmel High School, Carmel, Ind., and the other two are middle-of-the road students from China and India. The documentary illustrates that our elite U.S. students are behind the Chinese and Indian students in academic performance and standards. The United States should not and cannot afford to fight for second place. We need to be a leader and driver of education… not a follower!!!
The world has changed and is constantly evolving. We change and adapt in our businesses, we change and adapt in our communities, so why wouldn’t we change and adapt in our educational systems? I often get asked what I think the most important ingredient is, to a successful economic development plan. There is no question that the number of cranes in an area does not equate to successful economic development, but education is the number one component to a community’s vitality. How does our academic performance positively affect our community’s long-range economic plans….Well, it’s all elementary my friends.