School Tours Give HISD Educators Firsthand Look at 21st Century Learning

Educators know that often the best way to understand something is to experience it.

The New Tech High School in Coppell, Texas opened its doors in 2008. The school has wide open spaces, every student has a laptop, and New Tech is a student centered project-based community.

That was the goal of a recent visit to Dallas by HISD principals and administrators, who got a firsthand look at new schools designed to embrace 21st century learning. With the 2012 bond program slated to build or renovate 40 schools across the city, much discussion has focused on creating modern facilities that use innovative teaching methods. The tour included stops at three schools in the Dallas area.

“I think what I was most struck with at the schools we visited was the transparency of classrooms to the rest of the campus,” said High School for the Performing & Visual Arts Principal Scott Allen, whose school is slated for a new campus in the downtown Theater District.

“Two of the schools we toured, it was almost a fishbowl design in which you could see the instruction and what was going on in the classrooms at all times,” he said. “The idea that we could do something like that at HSPVA is very intriguing.”

Other design features included theater-style classrooms that mimic a college environment, breakout areas for individualized study and Wi-Fi and surround-sound in classrooms.

Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Collegiate Academy

HISD staff members recently toured Dallas ISD's Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Collegiate Academy. Gilliam Academy is an Early College High School with 400 students and 18 staff members.

At the Kathlyn Joy Gilliam Collegiate Academy in Dallas ISD, which partners with Cedar Valley College to increase college-readiness and academic success, the cafeteria features a student bar equipped with microwaves and large screens. Associate Principal Reginald Samuels said students can participate in after-school tutoring or they can work in the library area. There are fewer books in the library, mostly reference materials. Most students get their materials online, Samuels said.

Milby High School Principal Roy de La Garza said the school tours got him thinking about the importance of moveable furniture, adequate power supply for electronic devices and the practical aspects of creating a building that will be functional for decades to come, no matter what education looks like.

Dubiski Career High School

Grand Prairie ISD's Dubiski Career High School focuses on preparing students for 21st century professions. Dubiski's curriculum enables students to enter the work force with a certification, as well as, prepare them for or a 2 or 4 year college.

“I think the biggest thing I got out of the tours was the idea that we need to make sure our spaces are flexible for future generations as well as what we’re doing right now,” he said. “I think that sometimes we design with the present in mind as opposed to the future.”

Other schools visited were John A. Dubiski Career High School–Grand Prairie ISD and the Coppell New Tech High School–Coppell  ISD.

For those unable to visit the schools, videos of the facilities will be available on the district’s website and distributed to bond campuses on DVDs so principals can share them. HISD planners hope to set up tours of schools in greater Houston in coming weeks.