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Innovative Schools

Innovative Schools

I attended the East Asian Regional Council of Schools (EARCOS) Leadership Conference in early November because I wanted to listen to Larry Rosenstock and I have to admit he brought tears to my eyes! Creating innovative schools has been a part of my life for the past 40 years and I was very excited to hear Rosenstock talk about his experiences in starting new schools. He is clearly a humble and compassionate man and what he has done for young people is truly remarkable. In fact, San Diego University lists Rosenstock as a Remarkable Leader in Education and honors his legendary contributions to the field of education made in San Diego. We can learn a great deal from Rosenstock.

A quick reference to Wikipedia will tell you that Rosenstock is the C.E.O. of the San Diego-based High Tech High, a network of charter schools and a graduate school of education.  He was the director from 1996-1997 of the New Urban High School Project, an effort funded by the U.S. Department of Education to find and describe new models for urban high schools. Rosenstock and his team created three design principles that seemed to be common in the successful urban high schools that they found. These design principles are personalization, real-world connection, and common intellectual mission. High Tech High is the first school in the USA to be designed based on those principles.

Rosenstock explained to international conference delegates in Kota Kinabulu, Borneo that he cut a lot of classes during law school at Boston University and felt that he learnt more in his study groups than in class. He taught carpentry and woodworking classes to young people for a total of eleven years seeing many successes with students who were not succeeding in regular classes. Rosenstock uses his past experiences and project-based learning as a way of engaging, stimulating and challenging young people. He encourages students to design their school surrounding, negotiate their own schedules and to solve their own problems. On the surface you could argue that some schools have been doing this for the past 20 years, but High Tech High’s success has now grown to twelve schools in California with 5000 students. Why?

Rosenstock believes in a model where students are making, doing, building, shaping until they are perplexed enough to ask… “How can I do this better?” Rosenstock and his team are actively shaping the minds of young entrepreneurs and future world leaders using personalization, real-world connection, and common intellectual mission.

The teachers at High Tech High, renamed Thought Leaders, work in teams and students work across disciplines; subject areas are integrated and so are different social classes and different cultures. This strategy develops understanding and respect amongst the different students and creates a positive and inclusive learning environment. Timetables have been deconstructed to allow students the freedom to negotiate a schedule with their Thought Leader thus meeting project needs on a weekly basis.

Students at High Tech High are encouraged to create their own projects, research necessary theory, physically make and then show the project publically. Students also choose to work on their projects at home, but they don’t call it homework, it’s real learning with real life application. The students (not the school) invite parents, uncles, aunties, grandparents, neighbors and friends to a public event that reinforces public accountability for students in a real-world way and ultimately creates amazing pride in the students. “I made this and everyone’s coming to look at it” is a comment frequently heard and highlights the ‘wow factor’ young people feel as they learn to be proud of their own achievements.  Hearing these stories actually brought tears to my eyes! Learning is the bottom line for any school and all kids should feel like this as a result of their learning.

Rosenstock shows us a model that we can use to improve our schools and ensure that young people are engaged, focused, trusted, challenged and accountable. What are you doing to improve your school?

Contact Maxine at Think Strategic to help you with innovative school improvement.

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