New Tech Academy ribbon cutting

By Lynn R. Parks

Student Amber Wise is an enthusiastic supporter of the Delaware New Tech program at Seaford High School.

"This is a great thing that we have," she told people at last Thursday's ribbon cutting ceremony for the New Tech addition at Seaford High School. "The things that go on here are like miracles. The education that you get here is something that you're not going to get anywhere else."

The building itself is part of that uniqueness. The interior features a lot of what architect Richard Moretti calls "horizontal transparency," meaning that interior walls are mostly glass so that teachers and students can see out into the hall and on into other classrooms.

"All these windows were a bit distracting at first," said junior Michael Bogle. "But I've gotten used to them now." And the openness means that there are fewer classroom disruptions, he said.

In addition to all of the windows, the New Tech wing features wide hallways with clusters of seating where students can gather to work on cooperative projects. New Tech schools, of which there are more than a hundred across the country, employ project-based learning with students working in groups.

"This is exactly what a new high school should be," said district superintendent Shawn Joseph, who took over the reins of the district in February 2012, more than a year after the school board started discussing adding onto the high school and nine months after the community approved a tax hike to pay for the $36 million project.

The state is paying 75 percent of the cost, or $27 million, leaving about $9 million to be paid by local taxpayers. The project also includes renovation of the existing high school, construction of a culinary wing and a wing for the agriculture program, expected to be complete by next September, and new bleachers at Dowd Stadium, which have already been installed.

Joseph praised former superintendent Russell Knorr, who attended the ribbon cutting, for his efforts in encouraging the community to support the May 2011 tax referendum. "Getting a community to understand the importance of investing in our children is quite an effort," Joseph said. "The community stepped up to the plate at a time when getting funding was difficult. The community realized that our children are important and that they deserve the best."

Joseph said that he had recently spoken at a seminar on innovation, sponsored by the University of Delaware. "All that I had to do was show pictures of our New Tech addition, and said that this is what it really takes to educate our children," he said. "Everybody talks about a world-class education, but what does that look like? It looks like Seaford High School."

Following the ribbon cutting, students conducted tours of the building. At the first-floor opening to the New Tech wing, where the high school offices used to be and across the hall from the Madden Auditorium, tour guides Rose Brittingham and Asspen Wilson paused to show off the view into the New Tech wing.

"This is what we get to see every day when we first get here," Rose said.

Lighting throughout the wing is muted, with brighter lighting over the hallway gathering places. With all of the windows and the spotlighting, the wing has more the look of a museum or a shopping mall than of a traditional school.

Most of the furniture is on wheels so that it can be moved to accommodate small or large groups of students. The wing has two double-size classrooms to accommodate large groups, three conference rooms, a project room where students can work on and store projects, a presentation room where they can show off their projects and a television studio and production area.

The New Tech concept uses combined courses of study, so that students take a biology/literacy class in the 10th grade, for example, and civics/geography/English in the ninth grade. Four of the New Tech classrooms are "flex rooms" for those types of classes, large but able to be divided in two.

Upstairs, the two points of the wing that are so visible from Market Street accommodate science labs. The view from the chemistry lab window is interesting and a visitor wondered if it doesn't prove to be a distraction. But Rose and Asspen assured him that during chemistry class, they are so absorbed in their work that they don't even glance outside.

In his remarks to the people gathered for the ribbon cutting, Joseph said that, "Seaford's best days are ahead of us." He added, "This building is symbolic of the greatness that will occur."

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