News and Tribune

April 11, 2014

CONSTRUCTING A CONCEPT: Progress on Clarksville's New Tech reveals methods behind school

Works sheds lights on how the New Tech model works


CLARKSVILLE — It sure doesn’t look like a department store anymore.

But Bill Brewer, director of construction for ARC Construction Management, said if he’d walked onto the site of Renaissance Academy sight-unseen, he’d never guess it was going to be a school.

“I still see a collaborative environment, but it’s hard to single this building and design out,” Brewer said. “It’s so unique.”

Clarksville Community Schools’ New Tech high school is taking shape on the outside. Inside, joists make skeletal structures for classes and offices. Brewer said the duct work and structural beams in the ceiling will remain exposed, but painted.

Overall, he said it’s not like a high school campus he’s used to.

Brian Allred, principal at Clarksville High School and incoming director of Renaissance Academy, said as the inside comes together, some of the concepts of problem-based and project-based learning make a little more sense as the spaces begin to take shape.

The school’s one arterial hallway leads to all the classrooms and offices. While the noise of hammers, workers and power tools ring through it during construction, Allred said it won’t be completely quiet once classes begin in August.

“When you see a New Tech environment, you see kids working together,” Allred said. “You don’t see them sitting quietly in rows of desks working on 30 math problems. They’re working together on the necessary research to come up with a solution to the problem.”

Doorways are outlined down the hall, but they’re not common interior doors. Allred said down the hall — and leading from the inside of each classroom to another — garage-style overhead doors are what they’ll install.

He said the schools teachers — which they’ll call facilitators — can close the doors partially or completely to cut down on noise, but they can also open doors between classrooms to allow collaboration with other students and facilitators.

But he said students won’t have to stay in the classroom to work. Benches and other furniture will sit outside of thresholds into classes, and students can move them however they see fit for working together.

“This space has been strategically designed to foster project-based, problem-based learning, even down to the furniture,” Allred said. “We want everything to be moveable, we don’t want anything to be static if it doesn’t need to be.”

They’ll also have the option to work in the campus cyber cafe. He said it’s where the students will eat lunch; they can bring in their laptops or other devices and materials and work if they like, even when they’ve stopped serving food.

Another room on the northeast side of the building will allow students to plug in their devices to LCD televisions to make it easier to collaborate on projects.

But the first phase of the structure — with 95 days left to completion, two weeks before school begins — isn’t the only piece the district needs to build. Allred said the freshman class will need exposure and orientation to the idea of New Tech. He said it’s not just to make sure the model works, but to make sure the students thrive.

“It’s as new to us as it’s going to be for these kids because we get one shot at doing this right,” Allred said. “We want to make sure we do because we don’t want to set anyone up for failure.”

He said some of that will come from immersion in the first few weeks of school, but he and the district are working on putting together orientation sessions for parents and students over the summer.

In the meantime, he said he hopes to get more students enrolled. With 40 signed on, 60 slots remain open. He said there’s some confusion about whether parents must pay tuition or not.

“Folks are still not understanding that this is a free public school,” Allred said. “They still think that this is a private, tuition-based school and they can’t afford it. That’s not the case, it doesn’t cost you anything if you’re an Indiana resident.”

The first students will have to learn the model as they go along, but he said as the years go on, they’ll be the ones to teach the culture of New Tech to underclassmen.

“This freshman class will be pivotal in the history of this school,” Allred said. “They’ll be pioneers.”