Angela Swartz/Daily Journal
Design Tech High School’s director Ken Montgomery works with Nicole Cerra, the school’s curriculum director.
A petition for a new high school focused on design and hands-on projects while retaining traditional learning was filed with the San Mateo Union High School District Thursday, bringing the school one step closer to fruition.
With good schools already in the district, Ken Montgomery, 40, the person behind Design Tech High School, said he still wants to provide students with another option. The petition had more than 300 signatures, more than the 75 signatures required for the potential 500-student charter school. They hope to open in fall 2014 with a freshmen class, then add on classes each year following.
“Some students would maybe benefit from a different experience,” said Montgomery, Design Tech’s director. “It would teach the skills people need to be successful: persistence, collaboration and critical thinking. We’re also driven by equity. Public school students should have access to the same services [as similar private schools].”
Montgomery, who is assistant principal at Capuchino High School and is married with one child, grew up on a farm in Idaho with 41 students in his graduating high school class. Prior to his work in different administrations, he was a teacher and he was even named as part of the USA Today All-Teacher Team.
“The design tech school — with extreme personalization — connects to my non-traditional, personal experiences with school,” said Montgomery, who first presented the idea for the high school to the school district about a year ago.
That’s not to say that Montgomery doesn’t think bigger schools can’t work. When he taught at a 3,200-student school in San Diego, he was impressed by how things worked out logistically. Extracurriculars are part of the reason for its success, he said.
Montgomery envisions a school similar at Stanford University’s d.school — Hasso Plattner Institute of Design — where he attended classes when he was pursuing his doctorate in administration and policy analysis. The school teaches design thinking and students will learn to apply this thought approach to real-world problems.
At Stanford, Montgomery studied under Linda Darling-Hammond, who served as President Barack Obama’s education advisor during his 2008 presidential campaign.
Nicole Cerra, a sophomore English teacher at Capuchino High School, is curriculum director for the potential new school.
“We want to create a school that gives students a better sense of who they are and what they may want to pursue earlier on in their education,” Cerra said.
She notes that the skills that would be taught at Design Tech would match up with what would be tested on the state’s upcoming Smarter Balance Assessments.
Speaking with the independent school called The Nueva School in Hillsborough and San Mateo that also emphasizes project-based learning and personalized learning, Cerra and Montgomery learned that it’s important to have hands-on experiences in high school before choosing a college major. For example, a student without such experience might go into college pre-med, then find out he or she doesn’t like the sight of blood.
“We would like to develop a strong relationship with the community through internships and would like to establish design challenges,” Cerra said.
A balance of content and projects would be a huge part of the curriculum, they said.
Design Tech was originally called Idea High School, but it was recently scrapped since there are idea public schools in Texas and they do not want to be confused with them. The name also captures our essence more as Design Tech is active and it also made sense since the school is no longer just an idea, Montgomery said.
The school board has 30 days in which to hold a public hearing on the proposal. A vote by the board will follow and, if the petition is approved, Montgomery and his team will go into a planning phase which would involve looking for a school location and developing curriculum. They said they’d like to have a central school location, so that all students in the district are able to attend.
Back in July, the potential school received $100,000 in planning grant funding from Next Generation Learning Challenges for help with costs associated with opening a new high school. They will seek further funds if the school is approved.
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