Education Leader and Project-Based Learning Pioneer Discusses Manor New Tech Model Success

December 12, 2017
Manor Independent School District

Manor ISD was honored to host education thought leader and project-based learning pioneer Ted Fujimoto recently. Mr. Fujimoto visited MISD in late November to promote the innovative work of Manor New Tech Middle and Manor New Tech High School by filming a series of videos.

With the New Tech Lottery applications for the 2018-19 academic year underway,¬†MISD got an opportunity to sit down with Mr. Fujimoto, now the President of Landmark Consulting, to discuss the New Tech model in education, and how MISD’s implementation differs from other institutions.

MISD: From what you have seen, how does Manor ISD’s implementation of New Tech differ from other districts?

Fujimoto: The main difference for Manor’s New Tech Implementation is around the emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math). I think there is a much closer tie to the industry because of being near Austin and the employers that have been attracted to this region.

MISD: Tell us about how project-based learning got started?

Fujimoto: The core of New Tech’s PBL came from my company. I was an entrepreneur that launched my first company as a freshman in college. It was a tech company doing finance and logistics systems for large cellphone finance organizations. I moved it from Silicon Valley to Napa Valley where I am from. Napa is a farm town, and we could not even hire administrative assistants that had the skills we needed to grow. Our company was known for taking on brand new technology, new industries, and coming up with solutions, on time and on budget.

We went to the school board and asked what they are doing to fix that problem? We told them that we could not survive here and that we would have to move within the next year if we want to grow. They threw it back on our lap and asked what we wanted to see? That is where we took the project management database, how my teams structured their projects, and we dumped that into the first Napa New Tech. It was really built on how can you get your team, have them work together in a particular fashion with a culture of trust, respect, and responsibility? And how do you put them in a problem that they can solve and learn about?

MISD: Manor ISD has seen great results with New Tech for 10 years now throughout its leadership change. In your view, what is helping MISD implement New Tech through over 10 years of change?

Fujimoto: It has been maintaining high fidelity to the culture and to the fidelity of how you do project-based learning. That combination is essential. They can’t go without each other. Part of the high school, even with the change, is that you have such a strong culture and relationship. Even Principal Bobby Garcia used to be a teacher at Manor. So there is continuity on mindset, on the way of doing things, which I think is essential in sustaining performance.

MISD: Manor New Tech Middle School is in its first year. What advice do you have for Manor ISD to ensure its new New Tech school succeeds?

Fujimoto: Whenever you have something innovative and that works, it is like a healthy freshwater fish. When you drop it into a traditional system, it is like dropping a freshwater fish into a saltwater tank. At some point, it dies. Part of the challenge as a district is to identify specific contaminants, the salt in the water. How do you start to turn that into fresh water? How do you create an ecosystem that fully supports and is aligned to implement with fidelity? What does it mean to have strong culture? That is a process, a very deliberate, conscious process.

One thing we did at the original New Tech was that we got rid of as many class periods as possible. Authentic work does not get broken down into ‘Ok, we’re going to focus on this area.’ It was more holistic. How do you start to blend more interdisciplinary work with longer periods of time? That is fundamental with accountability, credit and how credit is awarded. If I had my choice, I would have one big period with subject area experts working with teams to get covered what is needed for courses. The more we fragment knowledge, the less authentic it becomes.

MISD: Any other thoughts you would like to add?

Fujimoto: I am very encouraged to see the trajectory Manor ISD has undertaken. Especially to give every kid in this district a chance to experience this deeper learning. I hope the community, superintendent, board, and team continue to stay on that path. It is important to not lose the integrity of the process. What you end up with is the worst of both worlds if it is done halfway on each side. It is almost impossible to maintain two competing cultures, two competing ways of teaching, two competing ways of governing. The sooner the system gets aligned to make it easier to do the right thing, that is when we’ll see the changes through as we have seen over the past 10 years.

Click below to see Ted’s video on Manor New Tech!

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