2018-06-14 / Front Page

New School Design Should Engage

Traditional Buildings ‘Flawed Platform’
By Andy Long

At a meeting of the Ad Hoc Building Committee of the Newport School Committee on June 11, 30 teachers, administrators, concerned citizens and city personnel workshopped to imagine, in the words of the evening’s presenter, “your aspirational vision for teaching and learning [in a new high school].”

The session was led by Robert Hendriks, the managing principal of the Educational Legacy Planning Group, of Fishkill, New York, the firm hired by the committee to assist in the planning for a new high school.

“We should try to be the parents of the future rather than the offspring of the past… [where] legacy thinking is basing decisions on past practices… [in contrast to] legacy planning, [a] future focused on unborn generations,” he said.

“We have built on a flawed platform,” he said, referring to traditional designs for high schools, whose layouts, he says, define the lessons which can and cannot be given in them and discourage student engagement.

He cited a 2016 Gallup Poll that surveyed 800,000 high school students and found that nearly half felt stuck or discouraged. The same survey found that 47 percent were disengaged with their studies. “This is very important data as we go forward to think about teaching and learning,” he said.

Hendriks said that rates of disengagement climb, from fifth through 12th grade. “We found [levels of anxiety and disengagement] that even your best high schools are dealing with,” he said.

Schools, he believes, should be judged not by graduation rates or college admissions but by levels of student engagement, as a measure of the quality and value that all students experience while pursuing career and academic paths.

“What does teaching and learning [in the new school] look like?” he asked.

He posed further questions about the integration of vocational education into the more traditional curriculum, the creation of internships in the larger community, and what sort of faculty this new school would have in order to teach a variety of subjects that keep students interested.

After breaking into smaller groups, school committee member Raymond Gomes asked, “In 20 years, will there even be a high school?”

Hendriks answered, “High School could become very irrelevant if we don’t change it.”

Gomes theorized that there would be only a building used by students for a day or two each week to consult staff members before heading off to career oriented internships or to learn remotely on a computer. “They have to be immersed into what they want to do… training has to include what will be their career,” he said.

Superintendent Colleen Jermain spoke of project-based learning and said that teachers will build to their students’ strengths. “The facility should not determine what is being taught, but how it is being taught,” she said.

City Councilor Lynn Ceglie sounded a common theme. “Lecturing doesn’t work. [Learning] is more hands on.”

Many participants also speculated that artificial intelligence will play a large role in future learning, both as a resource and as a subject.

Hendriks said, when thinking about a new high school, it is necessary to consider how students will experience education. “It’s how we teach and learn. It’s not about a building,” he said.

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