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  • A New Architecture for a New Education Ball State University



    Figure 1.13.1: Located in a one-story building originally part of a naval base, the Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs High Tech High repuproses the existing building while maintaining the original features of its industrial character.


    Introduction‘High Tech High,’ (HTH), as the name suggests, takes pride in its technology and the purpose driven building design which reflects the use of technology as an important tool for project-based learning. However, High Tech High does not exist solely to integrate the latest technology into curricula, but to create environments where teachers and students can work and learn effectively. Curving transparent walls, well lit working areas, and an expansive open space floor plan, express the intellectual ideal of public education in the new millennium. As the first charter high school of the repurposed Naval Training Academy base. HTH is a model of school-change in the 21st century.

    OverviewStudy Completed: Fall 2010Type: Public Charter High SchoolLocation: 2861 Womble RoadGrades: 9th-12thStudents: 527 StudentsYear Organized: 2000Square Footage: 38,000 SF

    Learning Snapshot: The aim of the school is to select, study, and assist inner-city high schools that are using school-to-work strategies, such as internships and other forms of field work, as a lever for whole-school change. The HTH planning guide centers on three design principles: personalization, adult-world connections, and common intellectual mission.

    HistoryHigh Tech High was originally conceived by a group of about forty civic and high tech industry leaders in San Diego. Members of the Economic Development Corporation and the Business Roundtable met regularly between 1996 and 1998 to discuss the challenge of finding qualified individuals for the high tech work force. In late 1998, the group voted to start a charter school. The founding group was clear about its intent: “to create a school where students would be passionate about learning and would acquire the basic skills of work and citizenship.”

    High Tech High began in 2000 as the first charter high school launched by a coalition of San Diego business leaders and educators. HTH has evolved one high school within into an integrated network of schools spanning grades K-12, housing a comprehensive teacher

    certification program and a new, innovative Graduate School of Education.

    Vision“The organizational visions and design principles of High Tech High directly impact the schools’ visions of creating and maintaining holistic designs for learning and instruction. High Tech High values reflective practice and a sense of shared purpose between faculty and administration. High Tech High schools envision their role in school reform as a commitment to preparing students for the world as democratic citizens and workers.” (

    PersonalizationEach student is assigned an advisor that works with the student in developing personal goals and areas of focus.

    Adult World ConnectionLater on, students will hold an internship for a semester in the community. Not only can students shadow a professional through an average workday, but also participate in power lunches with outside adults on issues of interest.

    Figure 1.13.2: The black acoustic curtain creates a temporary meeting space in the main common area.


    Charter School Patterns of Innovation A Building Better Communities Project


    Figure 1.13.3: The main meeting space with curtains drawn back creates an open transitional area that can be used for informal gatherings, individual places to sit and study, or large group assemblies.

    Figure 1.13.5: One of the computer classrooms (note the open ceiling and exposed structure)

    Common Intellectual MissionThere is no distinction between a college prep or technical school. With rigorous academics, HTH assesses each student by performance.

    Mission“High Tech High’s mission is to develop and support innovated public schools where all students develop the academic, workplace, and citizenship skills for postsecondary success. At each individual school, HTH seeks to serve diverse student bodies that are demographically representative of the local community. Curricular efforts are designed to prepare students (particularly those who are educationally disadvantaged) for success in math, engineering, and liberal arts in postsecondary settings. High Tech High aspires enable their student body to become thoughtful and engaged citizens.” (

    PhilosophyHigh Tech High exists to prepare their diverse student body to be creative, astute, and capable adults and professionals by abandoning traditional models of education with rigid, single disciplinary classrooms and learning designs. Instead, the schools embrace performance-based assessments, project-based learning, and interdisciplinary approaches to achieve authentic learning for all students.

    EnrollmentAdmission is via a random lottery. San Diego’s High Tech High campuses had almost 3000 applicants seeking 285 openings in 2009 with equal representation of students from different zip code areas.

    Students who have already attended High Tech High Middle are automatically accepted into any High Tech High School.

    Curriculum Because High Tech High frames the curriculum around the concepts of project-based and service-based learning in and out of the classroom, content is supported by practical and authentic experiences. Teachers assume the role of designers by constructing learning experiences and working in interdisciplinary teams to develop programs and projects. The school places special emphasis on integrating technology into their curriculum as a tool for differentiated instruction and student learning.

    Teacher EnvironmentMost HTH schools provide their own mentor teachers who best understand the local context in which new teachers operate. Mentor teachers must have California teaching credentials and


    Figure 1.13.4: The front reception desk uses an abstract overhang to create human scale in a space where ceiling spaces are fairly tall.

  • A New Architecture for a New Education Ball State University



    must attend High Tech High mentor trainings. In limited cases, High Tech High provides mentor teachers to other participating schools. In that case, participating schools will be changed to cover the cost of a stipend to the HTH mentor teacher. The growth and learning of teachers is a valued part of HTH. Because of the value placed on interdisciplinary teaching teams in developing content rich programs for students, HTH has created a fourth design principle called “teacher as designer.” This truly empowers the teaching team to discover richness in teaching styles, methods, tools, and techniques.”

    HTH houses learning lab spaces and flexible classroom space. These areas are divided by full-height glass walls that create a quiet atmosphere while maintaining the openness of the space.

    Classroom EnvironmentThe classroom environment feels more like a high-performance workplace than a school. With beautiful textures and colors, lofty ceilings, comfortable furniture, informal meeting areas, and many interior and exterior windows, the facility communicates a high level of trust and respect for the work of teachers and students. Every wall surface in the school’s common areas and circulation spaces offer places either to exhibit student projects or to look (through abundant expanses of glass) into the school’s dynamic seminar rooms, conference rooms, and specialty labs. The ceilings are also used to showcase student work, with projects such as mobiles and sculptures suspended from the exposed structural system.

    Teacher and Student RelationshipHigh Tech High educators enhance the real-world connection with personalization, paying attention to individual students’ needs and empowering them to match their projects to their passions. Juniors spend a full semester, eight hours a week, working at internships tailored to their needs and interests. Almost every adult at the school serves as an advisor to ten students, meeting weekly with the group and advising each student throughout all four years. Pairs of core-subject teachers (one humanities, one science/math) share the same two classes of students so they can collaborate on cross-disciplinary projects and better support students and each other.

    Community EnrichmentAs one of the three design principles at HTH is to prepare students for the adult world, HTH has the requirement that all students complete internships in the community. Juniors complete a semester long internship in a local business or agency while Seniors develop projects that allow them to learn by acting on problems concerning the community. 9th and 10th grade students perform group community service projects and engage in power lunches with community members on issues of interest.

    Facility Size: 1 story; 38,000 SFArchitects: NTDStichler Architecture and David Stephen Design Year Completed: 2000Building Cost: $7,500,000; approx. $197.37 per SF

    Spatial SystemsHigh Tech High school’s spatial planning differs greatly from traditional school design. Transparency throughout the building creates a connection through all of the rooms; however, movable partitions with marker board surfaces and projection screens can separate classrooms or open them to encourage “team teaching” (Design Share). The entire school community uses the commons, fishbowl, great room, gallerias, and other public spaces, but the students customize classrooms and studio areas, creating ownership and pride. Gallerias, as wide circulation corridors, continually display student work. Half walls and large interior windows in the gallerias provide views into most parts of the school, including the Commons Room, workstations, specialty labs, and studios (High Tech High).

    The layout includes one half of the school that is open and used for teamwork and interaction, and the other half is separated for private group work. In the center of the building are the conference rooms and school offices, which are adjacent to the Commons Room, allowing for teacher supervision. On one side of the school, student workstations, project rooms, and teacher offices form teaching clusters, and allow for open interaction. Student workstations feel like office environments rather than classrooms and allow for individual and group work. Window walls visually connect students and teachers to the project rooms. The project rooms, which range from 600 to 850 square feet and include sinks and non-carpeted floors, can be used for individual instruction and projects (High Tech High). Teacher offices, adjacent to classrooms, provide teachers with individual work and storage areas. In addition to this arrangement, windows to the classrooms, studios, and

    Figure 1.13.6: Inside one of the classrooms that faces the “great room.” These rooms are more transparent than those in the middle part of the building.

    Figure 1.13.7: A first floor level plan of the school showcases the differing spatial zones. The left side has 4 classrooms surrounding a “fishbowl” while the middle section has more closed spaces and the right side of the school is the most open floor plan with transparent classrooms surrounding a project area called the “great room.”



    Charter School Patterns of Innovation A Building Better Communities Project


    circulation areas, also encourage better teacher-student connections (Design Share).

    Seminar rooms and specialty labs make up the mid-section of the school. Seminar rooms include movable furniture, storage for projects, and walls for direct instruction, research, presentations, and group work. Subjects like biotechnology, mechanical engineering, and graphic design, take place in specialty labs and project rooms that are equipped with technology specific to those subjects. Seminar rooms are visually connected to the cluster of teacher offices and classrooms, and they have movable wall partitions to create combined teaching space (High Tech High).

    Circulation/Movement SystemHigh Tech High School is a renovated former 38,000 square-foot United States Navy technical training center. The main entrance opens to the Commons Room that includes the reception office, a performance stage, and flexible seating arrangements (Design Share). The school provides a non-institutional feel and presents more of an office atmosphere. A continuous corridor running lengthwise connects the whole building and acts as a gallery of student work, expanding into small gathering spaces for group work or presentations. The main circulation route encircles the reception office, bathrooms, and computer-modeling lab. Workstation suites and project rooms specific for subjects are at one end of the building, which lead to the Commons Room, library, school and reception offices. The other end of the building includes additional specialized rooms, labs, and seminar rooms surrounding an oval shaped “fishbowl” flexible use space. The Commons Room, studios, and classrooms surrounding the fishbowl are transparent along the main circulation route to enhance the sense of “openness and coherence.” The Commons can expand into the circulation corridors for more space for meetings or presentations (High Tech High).

    Site Response When deciding where to locate High Tech High, site infrastructure was considered. Urban areas with access to transportation, local businesses, outdoor amenities, and sports facilities provided the best location. With a central location, a wider range of students is attracted to the school, and encourages growth in life of the community (High Tech High). The decision to adapt, renovate, and reuse the Naval Academy training base was a great opportunity for the entire High Tech High Village.

    Much of the school’s achievement in academics and awards is due to the building design. The building emphasizes creating spaces and conditions where students and teachers can learn and work (High Tech High).

    Building Systems The Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs High Tech High facility takes advantage of the long span, open web truss steel structural system by keeping the classroom walls at a height below the open structure. This creates an opportunity for the network of pipes and ducts to be exposed, a providing rich learning experiences in understanding building systems and technology. Additionally, the open structural system and low transparent walls allows for optimal daylighting in the learning spaces as the clerestory skylights run the length of the building effectively illuminating the interior spaces. To help with acoustics, sound insulation is placed on the underside of the roof decking.

    FundingHigh Tech High receives public tax funding for per student attendance, and operates on 82-85% of the funding that traditional public schools use. Donations and grants are used to purchase land and building materials (North County).

    Start-up grants and private donations helped initiate the facility development, but now the school runs on about the same amount of money as district public schools. High Tech High was started by a coalition of San Diego business leaders and educators, assembled by the Economic Development Corporation (High Tech High History).

    The school has received support from Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs and anonymous donors, which has provided the funding for the school buildings in the “village.” Less than 10% of the start up costs for new schools has come from finite financial support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Funding goes to preparing students for higher education and achieving high academic performance, training teachers, preparing leaders for principals, developing the facilities, technology, and efficient operation (High Tech High).

    The school has a year-long annual fundraising campaign called, “Annual Appeal,” that raises money through families and friends of the High Tech High charter schools. The funds allow the schools to assist areas of greater need and directly help the students and teachers of the

    Figure 1.13.8: A picture showing the openness of the building’s structural layout in the main transitional space.


    charter schools. It raises money for maintaining Teaching Team Budgets, small class sizes, up-to-date technology, and classroom projects. The organization aims to raise a minimum of two-hundred dollars per student each year. Corporate sponsorships provide a large amount of support to High Tech High, and foundation grants support new programs and resources for the students and teachers (High Tech High).

    Lessons LearnedHTH has been applauded for its adaptive reuse of a vacated naval academy building, implementation of its unique curriculum, and innovative methods for funding and expansion. The integration of both technical and liberal arts fields through project-based learning coupled with the creation of a teaching and learning facility that effectively shapes these experiences is its strength.

    However, as an open floor plan, with maximum use of transparency for students and faculty, the building is not acoustically buffered. The echoing and noise from student activity and movement in the common spaces may hinder some classroom activities.

    SourcesInterview with HTH Architect, tour of facility