CALUMET TOWNSHIP | Lake Ridge Community Schools will expand its successful New Tech model at Calumet High School to the middle school this fall and eventually to the three elementary schools.
Lake Ridge Superintendent Sharon Johnson-Shirley said the New Tech model, also known as project-based learning, enabled the district to improve its academic scores and graduation rate last year, effectively removing the high school from probation.
Shirley said adopting the New Tech model of education required reinventing teaching practices, learning methods and leadership strategies.
She said high school teachers were dedicated and determined, and began training middle school teachers during the school year.
There was a community meeting Thursday to respond to questions from parents and residents about how the New Tech model would be implemented at Lake Ridge Middle School.
New Tech will be phased in at the middle school, beginning with all sixth-graders in New Tech. Seventh-graders will have integrated classes in science and math, and eighth-graders will have integrated classes in social studies and language arts. In 2013-14, the whole school will be fully integrated into New Tech.
In January 2014, elementary teachers will begin training for New Tech.
Shirley and Lake Ridge Principal Renee Pluchinsky said the meeting was well attended and parents had great questions, including how children will be graded and how New Tech will meet the needs of the struggling learner and the accelerated learner.
School leaders say project-based learning helps students build strong relationships and develop learning skills. It builds on their oral communication skills, ability to work in a team, professionalism, written communication and crucial thinking skills.
While teamwork is a huge part of the New Tech experience, Lake Ridge school leaders say students still are graded as individuals.
Pluchinsky said there was a little hesitation in the beginning among the middle school staff, but everyone is on board now and is "really excited" about the upcoming school year.
In addition to training from Calumet High teachers, middle school teachers will attend New Tech training, funded through a federal grant, throughout the summer.
Some elementary school teachers also will be involved in training because a form of project-based learning will be introduced to those youngsters in the next few years.
While training is under way for teachers, the district also borrowed just less than $2 million for renovations at Lake Ridge Middle School.
Six classrooms will be renovated, converting them into three larger classrooms. Contractors will update the electrical system and the Internet wiring for additional computers in the building.
Kris Williams, school development coach with the Napa, Calif.-based New Tech Network, said the Lake Ridge Schools are part of a pilot group of school districts across the country that are implementing the New Tech program at the middle school level.