HCCSC leaders explain New Tech program

Kelly Renier.
Photo by Jessica Williams.

With a decision looming near regarding the New Tech program, Superintendent of Schools Tracey Shafer and an assistant principal at Huntington North High School, Kelly Renier, offer more information to the public about the program.

Information has been linked from the corporation website about New Tech. According to the links, Indiana leads the nation in the number of schools that have implemented this program with eight, and New Tech at Wayne High School in Fort Wayne is the newest in the state, established this fall.

The New Tech Network is said to support 41 schools in nine states.

Huntington County Community School Corporation are labeled as "under development" in a graphic of the state that is also linked on the Web site. Counties surrounding Huntington that are looking into New Tech include Whitley and Adams (under development) and Allen and (actively exploring).

Before implementation, pending HCCSC Board of Trustees approval, a number of things will be done to educate county eighth-graders.

Shafer says administration will go to the middle schools and talk directly to the students so they understand what it would be like and what it would look like, as well as how the selection process would work. He adds that the program would start small, like around 100 students, and then build up to possibly around 400 students or whatever the program in the high school can hold. If too many students initially sign up, Shafer says a lottery system would be applied and names would be drawn for enrollment into New Tech and the remainder would be put on a wait list.

The next step, he says, is that they would have a session with parents and students both to go over the program. The last step would be a follow-up session in the later winter months to touch base again, he says.
He also says students would enter by choice and would be asked to give the program a chance before wanting to transfer out into the traditional setting if it doesn't seem to work for them.

Since Indiana is leading the country, Shafer thinks it says something about Indiana's education.

"I think it says that Indiana schools are looking to be innovated, we're looking to grow and improve our performance. We're looking for creative and innovated ways to do that."

He adds that Indiana is also looking for something that makes sense with the present state of things (workplace, economy, etc.).

Shafer adds that he has run into uninformed questions and concerns. He also feels that there are misconceptions regarding the program. A concern that has been expressed by Board of Trustees members is the cost.
Through the partnership HCCSC has with the Fort Wayne Foundation, grants are available to cover those initial costs.

The only costs that the corporation would run into, Shafer says, would be for the infrastructure changes, but grants are being looked into there and also, money has already been budgeted for those types of changes, regardless of New Tech's approval.

"New Tech doesn't necessarily add that cost, it just causes us to look at it a little more concretely [like] how do we make that learning environment the best when we begin to make those renovations."

Also, Renier would be looked at in directing the program, offering an "inclusive role" to oversee all of the functions, Shafer says.

Renier offers a different perspective into the mix, being a former teacher only a year and a half out of the classroom.

She says she has had the opportunity to speak with several New Tech administrators from around the country and she's heard time and again that it is a lot of work.

"New Tech is going to be a lot hard work for our teachers, a lot more so than maybe what they do right now because there are a lot of work up front as they plan the projects and really put that time in and then it tapers off a little bit as they are going through and there's more mentoring and mini-lessons throughout and then as a new project starts, it's a lot of work again."

But those same teachers that say it's a lot of work explain that they wouldn't go back to a traditional setting, she says, adding that the consistency of opinion excites her.

Renier explains that the program is for those students who are willing to take on added challenges and that are self-motivated. It also might appeal for those students who are not higher learners in a traditional setting.

"What our hope is that it will better prepare students for what they will face when they are out in the workforce and in college, or any additional training beyond high school," she says.

They are looking at the area that is referred to the "new science wing" to host the program.

"That's kind of the area we are looking at right now because part of New Tech is having autonomy, or having an area that is somewhat separate from the rest of the school, and that would be one location," Renier says.

If the board approves the program this month, they are also looking at six teachers transferring to New Tech, but it depends on how many students enroll. And as they expand the school each year to accommodate incoming freshmen, about 20 teachers might be needed, but Renier stresses that nothing is set in stone.

Being in the school daily, Renier has heard different opinions regarding the proposed program. She says most students don't know a lot about it, but the current students won't be affected by it as much, and teachers offer a variety of opinions. Some teachers have taken it upon themselves to research New Tech and they are working on trying to get people as educated and informed as possible.

Shafer adds that they have been working on the project for a year, and the time to decide is now.

"It's time, I feel like, that we make a decision on this and I think, again, in a very low cost way we can provide a really improved learning environment and culture for our kids who want to participate in that," he says.

Corporation administrators and board members are planning a trip to the New Tech School of IDEAS in Decatur Township of Indianapolis tomorrow, Friday, Nov. 6.