Not My Parents High School

I spent the last two days in Chicago with principals and superintendents including Glenn Vos from Holland Christian Schools (HCS).  While it includes the high school that my parents graduated from, this is not a Rip Van Winkle school system.
Ted Sizer and the Coalition of Essential Schools taught us that good schools exhibit a high degree of intellectual and design coherence—everything works together for teachers and kids.  At HCS, the iFIT team (Integration of Faith, Instruction, & Technology Team) serves as the coherence keepers.  You can see evidence of their work in the remodeled facility that features high tech classrooms, collaborative spaces, lots of light and a coffee shop.
You can also hear evidence of coherence in Glenn’s answers to tough questions: anchored in a worldview, emanating from a deep understanding of human development, informed by a shared instructional vision, and practical about policies.
HCS features an Apple recognized 1:1 laptop program in grades 6-12 for 24/7 student access:

The goals of the program include equipping students with the latest technology skills and teaching them discernment and the ethical use of technology. Another important goal is to model current best practices in education by differentiating instruction, developing anytime anywhere learning, widening community and communication, and developing life-long learners.

HCS owns the MacBook Pro laptops, checks them out to students, and sells them after four years.  Older laptops are cycled through 5th grade.  Students in K-4 will soon be using iPads daily.  Teachers and administrators have been using them for a year to get ready for deployment.  They are finding that (as Mindshift pointed out last week) there are better web and mobile apps for math than there are for literacy.
Glenn and his team make the case for parent and community support for tech integration.  They also try to model tech integration.  At the workshop, I gave a prize for the most phone or tablet apps, and Glenn won going away—it’s great to see this kind of modeling from a superintendent!
HCS makes a big commitment to supporting teachers by hiring Technology Integration Specialists.

The specialists meet with each teacher once per quarter (4 times per year). The specialist and the teacher work together to set technology integration goals for the year and work one on one together to plan and design lessons for students that integrate technology seamlessly into the teacher’s curriculum. The intent of the Technology Integration Team is to introduce new technology to teachers at their own individual pace, creating “just in time” learning rather than “just in case.” The Technology Integration Specialists also meet with grade level teams and departments to implement technology tools for their specific needs.

There is also some online tech support.  Here’s an example of well structured professional development for project-based learning.  Holland Christian was getting so many visitors that they created a Tech Institute to share best practices and organize tours.
HCS has benefited from generous donors, but this isn’t a $25,000 per year prep school.  They spend less per pupil than neighboring public schools but they provide a rich integrated preparation for college, careers, and citizenship.
It is encouraging to spend time with school administrators like Glenn thinking deeply about the world our kids will inherit and the work they do to get them ready.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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