Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Discovery High School

Wander the halls of Discovery High School at Newton Conover on any given day and you will immediately see that this is not a traditional high school. Students might be sitting in the hall working on laptops, or writing on a “chalk-talk” board where students respond to open-ended questions, or they might be filming videos for a class project. If you happen to venture outside, the students might be sitting and eating at outdoor tables, or working in the school greenhouse. You might have passed one or two students on your way in, blowing leaves or tidying up the memorial garden. Students might be in the media center, working on online classes, or in the creativity room painting, or filming in front of a green screen.
These students do not fit the stereotype of a surly teenager, though they are certainly teenagers. They are polite. They answer questions from visitors. They continue about their business. Teachers move in and out of these places purposefully interacting with these students. The teachers ask questions, call the students by name, and might challenge student thinking. Other teachers might be lecturing in classrooms or helping students working on projects. A visitor might recognize semblances of their own experience in high school, but there are also major differences.
And that’s just the way they want it at Discovery High School.
Discovery was started as a “redesigned” high school within the framework of the New Schools Project in NC. Initially funded by money from Gates grants to New Schools, Discovery is now funded entirely by Newton Conover City Schools. DHS is a public magnet school and is seen as an alternative to the traditional high schools in the area. Students from the area must apply to attend, and Discovery staff interviews every student who applies.
Currently, there are 196 students who attend Discovery High School. School officials would like to get that number to about 250 students total and to stay around that number for the foreseeable future. The idea is that a small school is more like a family. Students and teachers know each other well and thus, relationships are formed. A certain level of trust between teachers and students lends to a more fluid and open environment. Students are often self motivated and allowed to incorporate their own interests into their school projects.
Discovery is a project based, 1:1 laptop school. Students work individually, in pairs, or groups using the latest technologies to learn curriculum. They produce work and take tests just like at other schools. The pathways to learning just might be different.
In their less than 10 years in existence, Discovery has won many major accolades and awards. ASCD, PD360, and MTV have all filmed on campus to highlight DHS and the innovation taking place there. In 2008, Discovery won the Innovator Award from NC New Schools. DHS has presented at the Model Schools conference, and the NC New Schools conference. In 2015, they were named as a top 20 high school in NC by the Washington Post. US News and World Report put them in the top 30 high schools in NC. They recently became the only high school in NC to be named as an Exemplar School by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning.
With all of this recognition, Discovery still continues to strive for excellence. They continue to challenge tradition and examine assumptions. Discovery High School is an ever evolving entity and they are looking for creative, self-directed, hard-working students. Applications for next year have gone live on the DHS website and can be found Here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Just about every morning at Discovery High School I am in the hallway greeting students as they enter the building. Usually I refer to the day of the week and loudly proclaim something like "people of earth, I see you," or "people of the Discovery tribe, good morning!" I feel like it's important to let students know that we are happy that they are here. And I think that for some of them it helps to wake them up.
I was thinking about this this morning because lately I have been considering the idea of community and what makes a strong community. As some people may know, I am currently in the middle of a campaign for city council. One of the things that people often ask me is "why did you decide to run?" It's a good question and it's one that I ask myself as well.
"Why did I decide to run?"
There are varying reasons that I will get into later and that might be better served in a different forum but for me the underlying idea is that I want to make my city better. I see things that need to be changed. I see work that needs to be done. I want to help make positive changes. I think I'm the right person to help make those changes. It boils down to the fact that this is a community that I care about.
And there's that word again. Community.
It has different meanings to different people. Here at school we have a community time where the entire school assembles and we share information, celebrate successes, recognize individuals who embody the spirit of Discovery, and feature the talents of our students. It's a fun time where we are all together and it helps us to build this "Discovery Tribe." It's shared by all of us and is important to us.
But a community should also mean something bigger. Here at Discovery we bring many students from all over the area into our school. These students come from different feeder schools, different districts, and different counties in some situations. We throw them all together here and try to make something special.
But one of the things I think we often overlook is the parents of these students. These parents come from disparate backgrounds as well. And we want them to be part of our community. Let me correct myself. We NEED them to be part of our community. We, as a school, can't be as successful as we want to be without the support of the parents.
Parents have always been an integral part of a school, Sometimes it isn't as evident as it used to be but schools need parents in a big way. In a time when societal support is waning for public schools, and our own state government can't pass a budget to fund basic services, parents are the life-line to making schools better. Schools need to appeal to our parents more and we need to not be afraid to ask for help. Parents often ask what they can do to help. We need to ask them to help when we need them and they need to be prepared to step up when we do so.
You see, this is central to the idea of a community. People depending on one another, holding each other accountable, and working together to make a better place. Parents, teachers, students.  A school is a community and we are all in this together. Parents and students expect a lot from their school. And they are right to do so. But we are never stronger when we are all in this together. Supporting one another. Fighting the good fight. Striving to become more than the sum of our parts. Working to become the best school possible. The best community possible. And that's going to take all of us.

Monday, March 23, 2015

and now for something completely different...

I've said in the past that I might use this blog for things other than technology or teaching. So here we go.
One from the archives:

a moment in march                                                   03/07/04
dabbed colors blur on the edge of vision and
what cost is our sight worth?
forgive me for the moment
surrendering to the melancholy
to fatigue, to often grim realities
etched in stone for history.
this night is hopeful
maybe because of lessons learned-
sometimes it’s in the breathing,
still others, when it abruptly stops...
do we perceive ourselves
as those few lines in newsprint?
or is this, “the stuff of life”
greater than that?
are my dreams still real?
are any of us where we
imagined ourselves to be?
open hearts are, sadly, more
in the realm of surgery
than something looked upon
with awe and understood
when we remember days of
“ill show you mine,” and how
as children, we were transparent-
love and anger, happy and sad
all from moment to moment
in lyrical necessity living, breathing
existing on the edge of what we were-
unborn, and commingling with what we saw,
what was heard, phrases uttered carelessly,
examples shown, learning to grow
in ways maddening and unexpected.
innocence slips silently
away in small bits
dreams die in collisions
with expectations of conformity.
sit right here young man and tell me why you did that.
you don’t really think that way now do you?
it’s a stage he’s going through,
it’s the medication talking,
it’s a mid-life crisis,
he was just a little eccentric...
these cycles, these universes we
inhabit where does time go?
how do we get there from here?
can you show me the path?
can you show me the way?
strings attached to one another,
chaotic conclusions, levels of hell,
planes of existence.
whatever it is, we are but a pea
in the soup, in the fog
catching fleeting glimpses of
something other than here and now,
once remembered and forgotten
lifetimes in beautiful streams of
suddenly coherent and cohesive space and time.
and just like that
fading and lost,
gone, untouchable
and we can’t quite put
our finger on it-
out on the edge of vision.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

How often do you have to blog to be considered a blogger? If I haven't blogged in over a year am I still a blogger? Was I ever a blogger?
A few friends have been after me to start writing again so I thought maybe we would take this old blog out for a ride. Knock the dirt off of the tires. See what happens.
Today I want to talk about old habits. You know, they die hard. Just like our affinity for using the same old tools and the same old worksheets and the same old jokes. As humans we tend to gravitate toward the tried and true. But is it all so tried and true anymore? Just because something worked for students five years ago doesn't mean it's going to work today. Or maybe it will. I don't know.
The point here is that we shouldn't be scared to try new things. New ways of delivering info, new ways of imparting knowledge. Just try it. You might like it. -Sam I am