NEW TECH NETWORK SCHOOL DESIGN STUDIO
How the New Tech Network model created a collaborative, inclusive elementary classroom environment and fostered 21st century skills like writing and oral communication.
Memorial early college high school
Memorial Early College High School (MECHS) is one of only three high schools in the nation designated as both an Early College High School (ECHS) and a New Tech Network (NTN) High School – meaning students have the unique opportunity to engage in project-based learning (PBL) in a safe, inclusive, emotionally-supportive culture, and upon graduation, obtain a distinguished high school diploma with advanced performance acknowledgements and an Associate’s degree from MECHS college partner, St. Philip’s College.
When Comal Independent School District founded MECHS in 2009, it faced several unique challenges. Chief among them was opening the innovative school with a traditional instructional model, which inhibited students from having the innovative learning experience that was originally intended.
In addition, Comal ISD is a vast, sparsely populated district, and MECHS’ distance from long-established middle and high schools in the area, combined with its unique designation as an ECHS, created a disconnect among parents and students. It was viewed as an outlier –an alternative or satellite school that at the time, wasn’t an obvious choice for families.
In 2014, MECHS decided to enrich the learning experience for its students and create a distinct instructional identity by joining NTN, who specializes in partnering with districts and communities to transform schools into innovative learning environments that categorically prepare students to graduate ready for college and career.
NTN helped MECHS implement a firmly established model of schoolwide project-based learning as the foundation for instruction and assessment. In addition, in its early implementation phase with NTN, MECHS participated in a two-year Network Improvement Community to redesign its college access program. The outcomes of this effort helped MECHS develop an exemplary college counseling model that has made them a leader in their school district and within the New Tech Network.
The results of this whole school transformation have been incredible:
The institution – considered “academically acceptable” in 2011 – now (2019) has a TEA score of “99 out of 100” in how well it prepares students for success, both in school and after high school in college, a career, or the military.
In addition to increased academic rigor and success, perceptions of MECHS shifted within the community. The success of its transformation allowed MECHS to de-stigmatize itself from a small specialty school with an alternative program to a clear school of choice in its district, now with a waiting list of over 70 students.
After completing its four-year implementation phase with NTN, MECHS has augmented its commitment to the network in its continuation phase – relying on NTN for specialized support services and engaging Comal ISD leadership at network initiatives and events.
Comal ISD’s continued engagement with NTN at the leadership level paved the way for more NTN schools in the district, including Danville Middle School and Pieper Ranch Middle School, and has made them celebrated leaders in innovation – both in the network and among school districts in Texas.
Photo Courtesy of Memorial Early College High School