Dell Inc., the St. Louis Public Schools (SLPS), and the University of Missouri-St. Louis have announced plans to develop a technology-rich high school that reportedly will provide 125 ninth-graders with some of the most advanced classroom technology ever assembled. The school is scheduled to open in September.

The organizations will work together to transform SLPS’s Carnahan Middle School into an advanced high school and learning facility, complete with wireless technology; Dell notebooks, printers, and network servers; and other devices intended to help students develop the kinds of skills they’ll need to stay competitive in the 21st-century workforce.

Dell’s effort is similar to recent undertakings by other leading technology firms, including Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. Intel’s Model School Program has locations in California and Florida; Microsoft’s School of the Future is located in Philadelphia. Both programs seek to build technology-embedded, 21st-century learning environments and prepare students for the contemporary university and job market.

In St. Louis, the Dell-sponsored school, also called a “School of the Future,” aims to:

  • Improve student academic achievement;
  • Enhance the educational environment, including school-to-home communication;
  • Increase teacher productivity through anytime-anywhere instruction;
  • Improve administrative effectiveness; and
  • Provide a measurable return on the district’s investment in technology.
  • Organizers–including educators, parents, community members, businesses, and community-based organizations–hope the school will serve as a model for how technology can improve student grades, attendance, and graduation rates by using computers pervasively in instruction and school management.

    “For our children to be successful and competitive in college and in the rapidly changing job market, it is imperative that they have access to up-to-date and relevant technology today,” said SLPS Superintendent Creg E. Williams. “Our goal is to help prepare these young people for the challenges that lie ahead and show them how promising their futures can be. Our partnership with Dell and UM-St. Louis will help provide them with the tools and technological skills they need to be successful in life.”

    Williams, who was involved in Microsoft’s program in Philadelphia before coming to St. Louis, said in an interview with eSchool News that he intends to use the pilot at Carnahan as a model to be replicated across the district eventually. Five years from now, Williams said, he’d like to see every high school in the district partner with at least one technology corporation and one university.

    Under the current plan, all high schools that are refurbished or built, beginning with Carnahan, will begin as transition high schools, Williams said. That means the school will start with a single class of ninth-graders, adding additional classes each year, until a complete four-year high school comes together, with the freshman of the 2006-07 academic year graduating in the summer of 2010.

    The district says the middle school-to-high school conversion is consistent with its plans to create smaller high school learning environments.

    Carnahan reportedly is only two years old and therefore will not need a great deal of retrofitting to incorporate new technological elements provided by Dell and other sponsors, Williams said. Additionally, Carnahan’s original budget of around $3 million annually will remain about the same, with program sponsors chipping in to provide additional support and services where needed.

    Besides helping design and implement the project, Dell will provide teachers with ongoing professional development to promote the effective use of technology. The company also plans to produce a set of best practices developed in cooperation with SLPS teachers, administrators, students, and parents.

    “We’re committed to helping students prepare for the 21st century and to helping teachers harness the teaching power of today’s technology,” said Karen Bruett, vice president of Dell’s K-12 education business. “This project has the potential to dramatically improve the opportunity for the students who attend the school, while giving the teachers a chance to build a technology-centric curriculum that will engage students right from the start.”

    Teacher commitment to professional development, Williams said, is key to the project’s success.

    “This is a ‘school of the future.’ In order to remain a ‘school of the future,’ year after year, the professional development provided by Dell and the university will continue to remain very important,” Williams said.

    Williams also is planning to mandate parent participation, making it necessary for the parents of every child who applies to Carnahan as part of the school’s inaugural class to remain involved with their child’s education through electronic and in-person contact with school officials. Dell also will host on-campus development courses for parents to better prepare them for their role in the learning process. Though it’s not likely the parental mandate will stay in place as additional schools move to the model he’s envisioned, William said, it will be “interesting” to see how such close parent contact affects attitudes and policies in other schools, not to mention student outcomes at Carnahan.

    Williams anticipates that corporate partnerships–in conjunction with funding, human capital, and professional and IT support–will help foster a culture of professionalism atypical of traditional school environments. That professionalism likely will serve students well as they move on to the university community or enter workforce after high school, he said.

    Kathy Thomas, manager of education strategy for Dell, said opportunities for ongoing assessment will be built into the Dell school architecture to help meet state standards and the assessment goals of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

    Since NCLB’s inception, Thomas said, some schools and educators have been reluctant to experiment with new technologies and pedagogies for fear of the law’s strict requirements. But that could change with the Dell project.

    “We are pulling [technology architecture, security, professional development, and other elements of the program] together along with the ability to do the ongoing assessment that we will build into the learning environment,” she said. “That information is necessary to make decisions based on what’s going on with students. If we can make assessment formative, rather than summative, as part of the process, it will allow teachers to correct students if they’re not getting it, and advance them forward if they’re moving too slowly. We also need [formative assessment] to better provide for the collaborative learning environment for the teachers–to get the feedback they need to work with the technology, experiment with new learning practices, and get appropriate peer feedback and assistance.”

    Another sponsor, telecommunications provider AT&T Inc., says it plans to develop and deliver appropriate curriculum and content training sessions for teachers, library staff, and administrators; provide AT&T executives to serve on committees associated with the school; work to network with other appropriate community and business leaders in support of the project; and provide financial assistance for future development.

    AT&T Missouri’s vice president of external affairs, Debra Hollingsworth, was present at the dedication of the project.

    “AT&T has long echoed the St. Louis Public Schools’ vision ‘to ensure that every student achieves his or her fullest potential to live, work, and prosper in a global, technologically advancing world,'” said Hollingsworth. “This ‘School of the Future’ is a significant step toward making this type of learning environment the ‘school of the present.’ Technology truly makes a difference in enhancing children’s education, and we’re pleased to partner on this important initiative.”

    The district and its partners currently are assessing the school’s existing infrastructure, pulling together the blueprint for wireless and back-office infrastructure, and determining what’s needed and how to proceed to get Carnahan off the ground, Williams said.

    Thomas praised Williams for his leadership and his eagerness to design partnerships to promote 21st-century student skills in public education.

    “When you contact an organization like ourselves & just asking for price, that’s what you’re going to get from us,” she said. “As a partner, we’re going to bring more to that relationship. We’re going to share best practices, collaboration, the expertise of Dell’s IT professionals, and much more. There’s so much to be harvested from relationships like the one between Dell and Carnahan. Our hope is that more school districts will look at what St. Louis is doing and be encouraged by that degree of partnership.”

    Links:

    Dell Inc.
    www.dell.com

    St. Louis Public Schools
    www.slps.org

    University of Missouri-St. Louis
    www.umsl.edu

    Intel Corp.
    www.intel.com

    Microsoft Corp.
    www.microsoft.com

    AT&T Inc.
    http://att.sbc.com/