Now, the school is in the reboot stage, with an MIT-educated principal leading a strategic planning process to rethink its mission and the use of technology. It is reaching out anew to partners for help, including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Comcast, and is hoping for significant investments.
New principal Richard Sherin, recruited from Maryland, said that the year is being welcomed as an “opportunity to get back to the grassroots of teaching and learning … putting our practices in order and really ironing out the curriculum.
“We’ve embraced being in a rebuilding mode.”
To be sure, the school still has technology. Teachers use software like Microsoft OneNote, which allows for communication with students and for work to be submitted digitally. Students can access their digital portfolios anywhere, even at home, which several teachers said helps with attendance and lateness issues.
Many classrooms are equipped with Promethean boards and clickers that allow teachers to get instant, simultaneous answers from students.
But now carts of laptops move from class to class, no different from the situation at many other schools, and teachers have to carefully plan which lessons will use them.
In addition, Romani said that not all teachers are on the technology bandwagon. HSOF is a “site selection” school, meaning that teachers must interview for vacancies, but it doesn’t always happen that way if deadlines are missed. And if a school loses teachers due to an enrollment decline, the transfers or layoffs are done by seniority – and often a technology-savvy younger staff member goes.
With University City closing, teachers had the “right to follow” their students. Some, like Uthman-Olukokun, adjusted. Others, however, didn’t buy in to the school’s concept.
“They say, ‘I don’t check my email,’” Romani said.
When it was established, HSOF was to build the curriculum around real-world situations and learning based on inquiry, problem-solving, and multi-disciplinary projects, with the student as “creator” rather than as receptor and regurgitator of information.
“That is still a part of the vision,” Sherin said. But it has to bend to the reality of what students need.
“With all due respect” to those who thought students could “go out in the community and solve real-world problems [while] struggling with the basic skills ... well, that’s foolishness,” he said. “You still have to begin with a solid academic program that engages the learners in exactly what they’re going to need to be college- and career-ready.”
The school is close to restoring the one-to-one program, but is being more intentional. Technology is “what [students] are used to ... and that’s how they learn,” Sherin said. But giving them devices “without really understanding what it is you want them to learn, and what it is you want them to do with the technology – well, then, you just have kids with toys.”