A school known for its different approach to education is going to look quite a bit different when students return in August.
New Technology High School will take over all of the Annex building, which the charter school shared with the Crossroads alternative education program on South First Street for its first four years.
Crossroads will move about 2 miles north to a new building on North Second Street, leaving room for New Tech to expand significantly.
The School District will spend about $1.7 million to remodel the Annex. Work started at the beginning of this month and is expected to be done for the new school year.
“Everything is going well,” said Steve West, project superintendent for Milestone Construction, a Springdale-based firm overseeing the work. “We’re a little ahead [of schedule]. We’re pushing to get a little more ahead.”
New Tech ended the 2016-17 school year with about 630 students. Principal Lance Arbuckle expects about 725 students in the fall. The school’s enrollment is capped at 900 by the state.
The school’s square footage will about double from about 60,000 to 123,607 square feet, according to Arbuckle.
That will allow the school space to offer classes it hasn’t been able to offer before, such as ceramics and music.
New Tech students always have had the option to travel to one of the district’s other two high schools to participate in a music program, but New Tech students requested a noncompetitive music option on their campus, Arbuckle said.
The school’s main entry and main office will shift from the west side to the east side of the building, with a courtyard added just outside the front doors — the entrance formerly used by Crossroads.
The school shared the cafeteria and gymnasium with Crossroads. Having exclusive access to both will positively impact the students, Arbuckle said.
Classrooms on the former Crossroads side of the building are being renovated to include storefront windows, a signature feature at the school.
Students may write on the windows with dry-erase markers as they work together. The windows, however, serve another purpose. The school gets many visitors, including educators from out of state who want to observe its educational model. Having storefront windows on each classroom allows guests to see inside without disrupting what’s happening, Arbuckle said.
The school emphasizes a project-based learning approach to education. Students largely are in charge of their own education while teachers facilitate. Technology is integrated in the classroom; students are issued laptops to use throughout the school year.
Arbuckle said officials are intentionally creating an environment that is unconventional.
“If we’re going to do education differently, then everything has to be different,” he said, pointing out the storefront windows and wall-to-wall carpeting.
“So it looks more like a workplace,” he said.
The expansion will include space for another double classroom, which allows teachers of two subjects to integrate instruction. English and social studies have been combined at the ninth- and 10th-grade levels, Arbuckle said.
Giovani Interiano, 15, says he looks forward to his sophomore year.
“I like how everything happens. I love how they do everything. I love the fact that we have our own laptop; that’s really cool,” Giovani said.
Giovani worries a bit about the expansion.
“When I heard we were going to get all of the Annex building, I didn’t really like that news, because I feel like what makes New Tech ‘New Tech’ is that we’re small,” he said.
Fellow sophomore Jonathan Trujillo, 15, is less concerned. He said he thinks the expansion will create a better environment.
Carla Fontaine, director of the Rogers Honors Academy, said she’s excited to have dedicated space for her program. She’s had to use different spaces depending on availability.
“Now, the students will know where to find me,” Fontaine wrote in an email.
The academy, which launched this past school year, provides guidance to the School District’s highest-achieving students on college options and how to get into college. The program encourages students to challenge themselves academically and find meaningful pursuits outside the classroom — both of which will help them earn admission to the best schools.
Fontaine said Honors Academy students will explore topics such as writing college essays and how to evaluate schools.
“There they can conduct research on the various top schools, have discussions and host guest speakers,” Fontaine wrote in an email. “We will also have resources focused on schools, careers and scholarships. It will be a space where I meet individually with each scholar to get a sense of their interests, strengths and initial thoughts about college.”
Fontaine has rooms she uses in the libraries at Rogers High School and Heritage High School. The space at New Technology will be her first classroom space.
“All three schools have been accommodating and helpful,” she wrote.
New Tech opened as a district-run charter school in 2013. It is one of nearly 200 elementary, middle and high schools in the New Tech Network, a nonprofit organization based in Napa, Calif., that brings a project-based learning approach to its member schools.
The organization named New Tech a “National Demonstration Site,” because it met the group’s standards of excellence.
That means, among other things, the school had to develop a clear set of student learning outcomes consistent with skills required to succeed in college, career or civic life. These include content mastery tied to state standards as well as work ethic/collaboration, critical thinking, and oral and written communication, according to a district news release.
Demonstration Site schools play a key role in showcasing the New Tech model in action by opening their campus to visitors interested in the model, according to the release.