The New Tech Network, which began in 1996 as a nonprofit school improvement organization, made a splash at the Educon conference in Philadelphia earlier this year, explaining how it reformed 86 schools in 16 states. And the difference with the model is that communities, not schools, fund them. Through fundraisers, donations and other contributions, the community “invests” in the change that happens.
At the same time New Tech started, local business leaders surrounding the Napa Valley (Calif.) Unified School District had concerns the school’s graduates weren’t excelling in skills required for life after high school, including computer literacy, critical thinking and collaborative skills. So, the local businesspeople gathered together to develop a school in which students would learn these skills necessary to succeed. New Technology High School was born.
Since its inception, the organization helped begin transformations at 30 schools last year, 27 the year before, and have their eye on 30 for 2012. In turn, the network provides technology implementation and professional development to the schools. “We’re not school operators,” says Lydia Dobyns, president of New Tech Network. “We work closely with the school leadership team and the business and philanthropic community that surround them.” The network provides more than 800 hours of training for teachers and nearly 1,000 project-based lessons schools can adopt, Dobyns says. The central idea is creating an untraditional school environment where students are engaged and want to learn. The network’s three pillars are: technology, project-based learning, and school culture, which aim to encourage high-achieving students.
Project-based learning, says Dobyns, extends the school day, encourages independent learning and improves respect and collaboration, which support its school culture goals. And the role of technology may have changed the most because, in 1996, the role of computers in the classroom was so prevalent, says Dobyns. Now, “we know they’re helpful and it’s more about technology being the fabric that touches and connects everyone.” Clarksville (Ohio) Community Schools is planning a New Tech school of its own to be rolled out in 2013. And Arsenal Technical High School of Indianapolis (Ind.) Public Schools, which includes a New Tech High among three of its different specialized magnet programs in the school, has a 95 percent attendance rate and 89 percent graduation rate.
Beyond the local level, the network has begun partnerships with state departments of education, including in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Arkansas. Although the network requires a small operating fee from the schools for its services and works with community leaders to fund projects in the schools, much of its funding comes through donations from big players, including Carnegie Learning, Hewlett-Packard, KnowledgeWorks and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.