Faculty play key role in developing high school

RICHLAND — The opportunity to plan a curriculum based on research rather than tradition excites WSU College of Education faculty members, especially because the effort involves a brand new school that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math.  Those subjects, dubbed “STEM,” are universally considered both in need of attention and vital to the nation’s economy.

What makes the planning even more gratifying, says Assistant Professor Judy Morrison, is the planners’ shared conviction that Delta High School graduates will have a well-rounded education. The humanities will be an important part of academics at the school, set to open in fall 2009.

“Other STEM schools say, ‘We’ll have four years of science, math and engineering, and if the students have time, maybe they’ll spend a little of it doing social studies,’ ” said Morrison, whose specialty is science education. “We’ve really focused on how we can prepare kids for the 21st century. They need to be problem solvers. They need to be independent thinkers.”
Scientists from Battelle, a major regional employer whose financial support is getting the school off the ground, were among those who insisted on the well-rounded curriculum, Morrison said.  They’ve teamed up with educators for the past two years, working toward the right mix of academic requirements.
Delta High School will admit students from the adjacent cities of Richland, Kennewick and Pasco. Faculty from those school districts will work at Delta on a rotating basis. Classes will be held at the former Columbia Basin College campus in Richland, where renovations are under way.  Principal Deidre Holmberg will hire teachers this spring.
Roth McDuffie

Holmberg praised the efforts of WSU Tri-Cities faculty and administrators on behalf of the new school.  Morrison and Associate Professor Amy Roth McDuffie, an expert in math education, have helped plan an innovative and integrated program of study, she said. 

Holmberg describes Liza Nagel, academic director for the College of Education on the Tri-Cities campus, as her mentor. They share the hope that WSU students will conduct research and teach lessons at Delta High.
“This will be a comprehensive high school that has a philosophy that permeates everything from course delivery to teacher preparation,” said Nagel. “Delta High will provide a laboratory for our student teachers, and WSU can provide professional development for its teachers.”
Added Holmberg: “Liza and I have a rather grand vision of a relationship between our schools that is mutually beneficial, focused on student achievement, and good for the community.” 
She also praised the support of WSU Tri-Cities Chancellor Vicky Carwein and Vice Chancellor Dick Pratt. “They have worked on governance, networking, and partnership agreements and are committed to making sure Delta is a success.”
One reason for optimism is Delta High’s small size.  Enrollment will be capped at 400, with 100 students per class year.  Freed from the traditional schedule of hour-long classes, students and teachers will have longer periods to explore topics and projects.


Delta students will travel to their home district schools to participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports and theater. “They’ll still get to see their school buddies,” Nagel said.

Everyone is curious to see how many students apply. 
“The challenge is getting high school students to move from what is safe and predictable and with their buddies, to something different,” said Nagel.
As Roth McDuffie sees it, Delta High will be a stage upon which the latest teaching methods can be demonstrated.
“We don’t feel bound to do things the way they’ve been done in the past,” she said. “I’m hoping this high school can really embrace what we know about effective teaching and learning of mathematics, and be a model for others to show the potential of what we do.”
The school’s creation has fostered relationships between WSU and the local school districts and the community, she said. “As a land grant institution, that’s fundamental to our mission. I’m glad we can be involved.” 
Visit the Delta High School Web site: http://www.thedeltahighschool.com/

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