Assemblyman puts the spotlight on New Tech High

January 1, 2010

Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Contra Costa, held an informational hearing on education technology at New Technology High School on Thursday. He chairs the assembly committee on schools and the city.

About 60 students, teachers and residents were at the hearing in the multi-purpose room at the school to tell Torlakson what they think of the school’s successes and innovations in education.

The Napa school’s state-measured Academic Performance Index score of 818 was the highest in the school district.

Currently, 41 high schools have copied the template developed by Napa’s New Tech, with

20 more schools in the pipeline across the nation, according to Barry Schuler, Knowledge Works Foundation board member and former chairman of America Online. He was an early advocate for this type of learning.

“This is the most replicated model today,” he said. “It is innovation in the classroom. New Tech is not going unnoticed. This approach is spreading like wildfire across the country. We have to make this the way we do business in education.”

Barbara Nemko, superintendent of the Napa County Office of Education told Torlakson, “Academically, these students are doing fantastic. For our economy to move forward, we need productive kids graduating. New Tech students learn what makes the world work.”

Torlakson said he was impressed by how learning is made to be relevant and engaging.

The assemblymen said the dropout rate today would not be as high if this type of education technology had been adopted

20 years ago.

Student Aitana Rothself said she and her peers have to understand the subjects they are studying. “Here, you can’t just memorize something in a book.”

Another student, Guillermo Rosas, said he came to New Tech after dropping out of a traditional high school.

“It’s challenging. You do have to collaborate with other people on projects. You have to work together and work with different kinds of people,” Rosas said. His New Tech learning experience has inspired him to want to go to college.

Teacher Rebecca Pollack said, “We don’t give (students) the information; they have to go find it on their own.”

Chuck McMinn, representing the Napa Valley Vintners, a financial supporter of New Tech High, told Torlakson he wants to see the computer technology expanded to younger students.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could give a Netbook to every fourth grader?” asked McMinn during the hearing.

He estimated there are about 1,400 fourth graders in Napa County and it would cost about $250,000 to put a computer in each of their hands. “This isn’t so crazy when a survey shows that 90 percent of all high school students today have a cell phone,” McMinn added.

After the meeting, Torlakson said the hearing gave him the “deeper details he was looking for in developing business partnerships, which are essential to a successful program like this.”

The assemblyman said the hearing also gave him more detail of how the program can be implemented all over California. He said this may mean changes in state law and Education Code, to remove barriers for implementation of such a curriculum approach.

“This was a chance to hear and meet individuals who know how to do this and know where the barriers are for this program,” Torlakson said.