“The High Tech vision of a school is that students participate in instruction that is not only rigorous and academically focused, but also part of their day will be spent in learning how it connects to the real world,” Dr. Amy Gile, principal of the new school, says looking forward to the school’s opening in August 2014. “I hear my daughter say, ‘I have no idea why I’m doing this,’” says Gile. She believes the High Tech model gives kids a purpose and a meaning behind what they’re learning. And, she says, “It’s focused on learning how to think and problem solve and work within our 21st century changes.”
Gile, who worked for six years as a curriculum coordinator in the central DPS office, three years as an assistant principal, and many years as a teacher throughout Colorado, is thrilled to now head this new school. “What we’re hoping is that people realize that the process wasn’t of our choosing and that isn’t held against us…the more I get to know the community, I hope people feel like they can trust me and that I’m committed. Just because it was a last-minute change (in the selection process) doesn’t mean that’s the way I am as a professional. Wherever I am working, that’s MY community. I know the families, the kids; I embrace it completely.”
The basic curriculum focuses on reading, writing and math skills taught using the Singapore math program and the Imagine It! reading program. Giles says the widely used reading program accommodates varying reading levels and allows kids to work at their highest level, whether above or below their actual grade level. “High Tech” refers to using computer programs to track student progress and pinpoint where specific students need extra instruction. It does not refer to a curriculum that has a primary focus on technology.
“High Tech” also refers to the program’s goal of teaching students to be 21st century thinkers and learners through project-based learning (PBL). Themes will be selected for six-week units, and students will devote a minimum of 45 minutes a day to working on a project of their own choosing within that theme. Students will also have one 45-minute period a day of specials (music, physical education, art, library, technology). When possible, these special classes will be tied to the current theme, adding another 45 minutes to the PBL time.
“We want to use those specials as more than just a stand-alone. We believe when learning is connected and we are really studying one theme and understanding it deeply, that is going to help make learning meaningful to kids,” Gile said.
“Especially if it (the project) is of their own choosing,” Assistant Principal Lisa Ortiz added. “Because then it becomes more personal. They’re more interested.”
Students will be required to produce individual projects but they will take a course called Kagen to learn how to hold each other accountable and work effectively in groups. “No matter where you end up or what career path or life path you take, the ability to consume information accurately, to problem solve, to collaborate, to network is essential,” Gile said. She believes PBL offers students a setting where they will learn critical thinking, communication and collaboration as they gather information and present their projects.
Gile and Ortiz believe PBL will support gifted students who need to be challenged because there are no limitations on how students pursue their projects. Students can get as creative or ambitious as they are able. At the end of the six-week units, parents will be invited to view students’ work.
Parent involvement is very important to Gile and Ortiz. They have a strong commitment to and belief in their core program, but they welcome input from the community as they flesh out the many parts of a new school program. They welcome parent volunteers to be on the Parent Advisory Committee, to help plan themes for PBL units, after-school enrichment options, rewards programs, and other areas in which parents are willing to share their expertise.
On July 9, Gile and Ortiz will hold a public meeting to further explain the program, answer questions and solicit parent involvement. Gile says she sees this school as an “amazing” opportunity to work with parents who want to be involved, even when it means working with parents who are unhappy.
“At my core, being a parent, I know that even the most upset, unhinged parent is there because they love their child and they want what is best for them,” Gile said. “And I will love their child and want what’s best for them because that’s how I work as a leader. So please call me. Please say what your concerns are.”
For more information, visit www.hightechelementary.dpsk12.org.