TECH VALLEY HIGH SCHOOL
Our program has always maintained a deep and authentic focus on developing student aptitude for our School Wide Learning Outcomes: Agency, Collaboration, Communication, and Technology/Information Literacy. Based on our growth measures (see scorecard), we have focused this year on improving student agency, in part by adopting a “7 Habits” component to our advisory program. Over the last 4 years, Tech Valley High has raised its emphasis on achieving student mastery on Regents exams while maintaining a focus on instruction through Project-Based Learning. We have used the results of these exams to drive curricular improvements and they have borne fruit (as evidenced in the score comparison addendum). Because of this added focus, we have also seen a shift in the kind of graduates we produce. We have always required that our students pass 4 years of math and science courses, but now more students are earning the “Advanced Regents” designation that indicates exam proficiency. Equity: TVHS is not a magnet program–students of all academic abilities and backgrounds may choose to attend TVHS. In fact, students with IEPs and 504 plans comprise 27% of our student body. Yet, all students are required to take 4 years of math and science courses, significantly more than the graduation requirements set by the state. Our selection process is also an exercise in equity. We work with more than 30 component districts to choose applicants by non-selective lottery to attend TVHS.
The adult culture at TVHS is remarkably strong and positive. This culture is due in part to time and space dedicated to collaboration. Consistent collaborative planning time is carved into our master schedule to allow teachers from integrated content areas to co-plan with Special Educators who join them in the classroom. Distributive leadership is evidenced in our biweekly faculty meetings. Teachers rotate to take on roles as facilitator and note-taker. Our work revolves around critical friending projects, looking at student work, and developing plans for students at risk. Summer hours work sessions are dedicated to collaboration and improvement of existing projects. Teachers work together to share best practices and community connections. We enjoy the support of partners through our Business Alliance and Foundation Board who continue to contribute to our program financially and with extensive mentorship. Together these adult teams ensure that our students get equitable access to internship opportunities through our I-Term program.
We seek out and utilize student voice wherever possible in the school design process. Students are invited to participate in weekly clubs of their own design: yes, we have a Dungeons and Dragons club, but we also have Amnesty International among a variety of clubs that engage students in topics that they are interested in pursuing. One way we have tried to get feedback from students on classroom projects was to theme our annual Design Expo with “hack learning” and allow students to find ways to improve projects or products, which they suggest to teachers in a letter accompanying their revised work. Student body presidents lead community meetings; our principal regularly reads and responds to a student suggestion box–including this year’s request for time to clean the school. Students were inspired by Japanese students who took charge of cleaning their school and requested materials to do a school-wide clean every other month. Student focus groups are consulted on a variety of questions.
STRUCTURES FOR PROJECT BASED LEARNING
Faculty work has taken advantage of structures such as PBL Chopped (where we look for opportunities to integrate unlikely course combinations) and Critical Friends protocols. Teachers genuinely seek to improve projects year over year, sometimes seeking out new partners, At times, teachers tease out new skills that might have formerly been embedded in a project and create a new project to capture them,
ASSESSMENT AND ECHO PRACTICES
Echo is a daily tool in our classrooms. Each teacher has uploaded their course-work to the platform, students access agendas and grades daily. This tool allows our 1:1 technology-driven school to run smoothly. We have discovered a learning curve for families to utilize Echo to its fullest capacity; in order to overcome this, we conduct sessions on our Open House evenings to train families how to check.
Staff turnover is very low, so onboarding of new staff might only be one or two new teachers each year. Those teachers are partnered with a TVHS mentor – a collaborative thought-partner (often a co-teacher) who can help them learn the cultural norms of the faculty at TVHS. New staff also attend NTAC as soon as possible.