Wasington Gov. Gary Locke and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have announced a new program to develop up to six smaller high-tech high schools around the state, and programs to link communities with the kids that go to them.

“These high-tech high schools will be great educational centers for the entire community,” Locke said in a conference call with reporters and foundation officials.

Under the Connecting Schools and Communities Initiative, the foundation will invest about $5 million to help establish technology-enriched schools and get the programs started.

Schools and communities applying for grants will need to come up with matching funds to fully develop the programs and to maintain and upgrade the equipment, so community-based partnerships and support from business leaders will critical. Locke said he hopes for state support in future, as Washington pulls out of the current economic slump, and that he would also help districts raise funds.

The smaller schools—the goal is about 400 students—will improve learning for both gifted and struggling students, Locke said. “Teachers will have more time to focus on the unique needs of every student.”

And through the internet, students will have access to classes not available at their school, he said, in such courses as foreign languages or advanced mathematics.

The aim is not just to familiarize students with computer technology, but to use that equipment to study non-tech subjects such as history and literature, Locke said. The model is San Diego’s High Tech High, a charter school that the governor and other state, foundation, and school officials have visited in recent months.

The first grant is going to Forks on the state’s northwest coast. Forks High has 400 students, and its transformation into a high-tech high school is to be completed by next fall.

Prospective applicants can call the Gates Foundation’s Kyle Miller at (206) 709-3145 or write the foundation at P.O. Box 23350, Seattle, WA 98102.

Related links:
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
http://www.gatesfoundation.org