Wednesday, Jul 27, 2016
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Education

Tech school’s success leads to addition of 7th, 8th grades

TPS magnet academy will keep its same focus

When you have a program that works, it makes sense to expand it.

Starting next fall, Toledo Public Schools will add two grades to one of its successful magnet high schools. The Toledo Technology Academy will add grades seven and eight, which could push the school’s enrollment from about 200 to more than 300 students at the Upton Avenue school.

The school, along with TPS’ other magnet school, the Toledo Early College High School, scores in the top academic tier of Ohio schools.

The academy focuses on technological and engineering skills with project-based learning. The school takes pride in its high ratings and tech focus. It’s a a niche program, and they know it.

“We will end up, if we are successful with this, with a lot of younger nerds,” Principal Gary Thompson said. “And nerds are a good thing.”

Mr. Thompson said the school doesn’t envision a separated junior high and high school program. Instead, the expanded TTA will be more like a grades 7-12 high school. The school, which does its own interviews and hiring of staff members, plans to focus more on teachers with specific expertise or teaching licenses — say, high school science — instead of general ed teachers.

“I really don’t see it changing the philosophy of the school,” he said. “I see what we are doing is changing the philosophy of how people think about seventh and eighth graders.”

The school also hopes to have experienced TTA staff teach some seventh and eighth-grade courses, much like a tenured professor who focuses on research and graduate- level courses, occasionally teaching an intro class.

Adding grades is nothing new at TTA.

Dale Price, a math teacher who has been at TTA since it opened in 1997, remembers how the school started with only juniors and seniors, but soon after added ninth and 10th grades.

Mr. Price said the plan now is to push some of the technology curriculum currently taught in ninth grade into the junior high grades. Now, freshmen are introduced to two robotics platforms.

Next year, seventh and eighth graders will each learn one of the platforms, meaning they should be already familiar with the concepts when they are freshmen.

That eventually would allow TTA to create more advanced coursework for upperclassmen, since they are learning the tech basics earlier and earlier.

“It really creates some excitement for what seniors are going to be able to do with five years here instead of three,” Mr. Price said.

Seniors at the school work on capstone projects and spend a month working at internships.

The school is developing more in-depth relationships with some of its business partners, such as General Motors, to create college scholarships or apprenticeships for graduates of TTA that would funnel students into local jobs.

There’s not much more room for expansion of the program, Mr. Thompson said. The school has been successful in large part because of its ability to be flexible and a cooperative operating structure.

Any additional growth would make it just another high school, Mr. Thompson said, and the school could lose its identity.

Contact Nolan Rosenkrans at: nrosenkrans@theblade.com or 419-724-6086, or on Twitter @NolanRosenkrans.

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