California Districts Plan High-Technology High School

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When the idea for a "high-tech" high school first occurred to Paul V. Collins, he was driving home from a meeting of the local industrial-education council, where industry members had been critical of the computer skills that local high-school and community-college graduates brought to the workplace.

"I began to think of how we could involve industry," said Mr. Collins, who is the superintendent of the Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union High School District in Los Gatos, Calif.

He regarded the idea of starting a high-technology high school with the support of industry as a "reasonable," and "sensible"--but not especially startling--way of helping to fill manpower needs in the rapidly growing high-technology firms of the area known as Silicon Valley."

Positive Response

But the enthusiastic response from parents, educators, industry, and the media--local and nationwide--suggests that Mr. Collins's "reasonable" notion is the proverbial idea-whose-time-has-come.

The superintendent and other school officials do not yet know how much financial support they will receive for the school, scheduled to open in September 1982, from the valley's corporations, which include many of the most prominent names in electronics.

The National Semiconductor Corporation has agreed to donate an "AS5-3" large mainframe computer that is worth approximately $500,000, according to Kirby D. Lindsay, corporate skills and technical training manager. In addition, the corporation will provide a consultant to help the school establish the curriculum.

Representatives from other firms say they regard the idea of the specialized high school as "promising"; many have offered advice and expertise and are considering other forms of support.

The problem the school will address--shortages of engineers and skilled technical workers that threaten to become more serious as the electronics industry grows--has been well-documented. Moreover, both educators and industry officials believe it is imperative that students become "computer literate" and develop some experience with and understanding of the devices that recent surveys estimate will be part of 90 percent of all jobs by the year 2000.

Solutions to both problems, especially at the high-school level, have been more elusive. The concept of "high-tech" high schools, according to both educators and industry representatives, may offer one means of alleviating them, and of helping to ensure a supply of students who are prepared to enter careers in advanced technol-ogy, either with or without a college education.

"We know there is a need there," Mr. Collins said. "We're just trying to fill it."

The high-technology high school, believed to be the first of its kind in the country, will be located in a region where much of the U.S. electronics industry started, a factor that probably accounts in part for the enthusiastic local response to the idea, according to several observers.

Widespread Support

The enthusiasm, however, extends well beyond the valley itself. The development of the electronic technology industry is high on the agenda of California's governor, Edmund G. Brown Jr. Gov. Brown also made a point in his 1982 State of the State address of asserting his support for enhancing the mathematics and science skills of the state's students.

"We're very supportive of the initiative," said E. Allison Thomas, executive director of the California Commission on Industrial Innovation. "It's the kind of thing we'd like to see happen all over the state."

The commission, established by the governor in November 1981, was created to develop a blueprint for industrial innovation. "Education is the number-one priority," since manpower shortages are the most serious obstacle to growth, Ms. Thomas said.

If all works out as Mr. Collins and other school officials hope, the school for advanced technology will be established as a combined effort of two high-school districts--Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union High-School District and Fremont Union High-School District--and local industries. The latter group will include some, like the Bank of America, that are not directly involved in the electronics industry, but are concerned about the economic health of the region.

Students from nine high schools in the two districts will begin by spending two hours of the school day at the new facility, according to Mr. Collins. They will continue to take other courses--English, history, and the like--at their regular schools.

The two districts together have a total of 12,500 students. A maximum of 600 students could attend the school during each of three two-hour periods, Mr. Collins said, with a total of 1,800 students served per day. The school will probably be housed in an existing school building in the Fremont district.

Between the hours of 3 P.M. and 9 P.M., adults and handicapped persons from the community will be able to use the facility to continue their education as well.

Governing Board

The program and administrative structure of the school will be established by a five-member governing board appointed by the school board. The board, which will probably be named by the end of March, will include representatives from both education and industry, Mr. Collins said.

So far, the exact program that will be available to students is not decided, Mr. Collins said. However, the courses are expected to range from relatively low-level technical-skills sessions to sophisticated electronics and engineering classes.

Students will be able to prepare either to attend college or to get a job immediately after graduating from high school, explained the superintendent.

The courses will be taught by teachers who may be part of the district's regular staff, or, if cooperative efforts work out as school officials hope, by industry employees. The latter arrangement is still tentative, but school officials say they will seek certification waivers for industry teachers, since most would not meet all of the state certification requirements.

Mr. Collins said that it has not yet been decided whether the core teaching staff will be full-time or if participants will, like the students, spend part of their time in a regular high school.

School officials also hope to have industry personnel instruct district teachers in in-service programs.

Funding is expected to come from several sources, but how much the districts will receive from each potential source has not yet been determined. School officials estimate it will cost about $1,875,000 to run the school for the first year, and about $1,500,000 per year after that.

State funding will probably be about $900,000 for the first year, based on the average daily attendance formula applied to all vocational-occupational education programs, Mr. Collins said. The two districts are also likely to apply for special state grants that will be awarded from a planned $19 million fund--part of the governor's proposed budget legislation--for retraining teachers, encouraging exemplary programs, and other projects in education related to technological innovation and productivity.

Much of the funding, however, must come from private sources: industrial and business donors and foundations.

So far, local industries have react-ed favorably to the idea of the school and have expressed a willingness to provide advice and information. Several, however, said that no decision on providing more tangible support--money and hardware--will be made until the school's program and curriculum are better established.

'Viable Program'

"The [electronics] industry would look at it as a good thing, a viable program," said Ron Geren, assistant manager of engineering education for the American Electronics Association, which represents more than 2,000 electronics firms nationwide.

"It has enormous potential," said Terry Gildea, technical training manager for Hewlitt-Packard, an electronics firm. But, Mr. Gildea added, it is too early to judge whether the high school will be successful in meeting all its goals.

"The concept is something this company would heartily endorse," said Amy Klausner, training and development coordinator for itek Technology Division, a Silicon Valley high-technology firm. "It's an outstanding beginning in the industry-education partnership."

"There's a documented need for technical workers," she said. itek Technology Division, for example, has 275 vacancies in a workforce of 1,800. Most of the vacancies, Ms. Klausner said, are at the skilled technical level.

"What's exciting is that they're trying to meet the needs of industry locally and trying to establish an industry-education partnership," she added. "That's something industry has wanted, and education has wanted. But the vehicle has not always been clear."

'Addressing a Need'

The school--and any others it inspires--will help prevent the "drying up" of the pool of candidates for engineering careers, according to Mr. Geren. "It demonstrates that the schools are addressing a need that industry perceives," he said. "It sets a good precedent."

Instruction in technology, Mr. Geren noted, "can't start just at the university level."

"Perhaps the most interesting thing to me is that the time is right," Mr. Geren said. "There's been a lot of press. I think they'll probably make quite a go of it."

Vol. 01, Issue 25

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