D-B official gives glimpses of what science, technology center might look like

Rick Wagner • Dec 5, 2015 at 1:30 PM

KINGSPORT — Nobody is suggesting renaming Dobyns-Bennett High School High Tech High.

It turns out that symmetrical name is already taken.

In fact, a school by that name in California is among the models from which D-B and Kingsport City School officials are getting ideas for the proposed Regional Science and Technology Center, which first grew out of the D-B 2.0 study and then was validated by the recent facilities study conducted by Ohio-based consultant DeJong-Richter. The school system is moving forward with choosing an architect in the spring, although it remains unclear whether the Sullivan County Commission will pull the trigger on a proposed $140 million countywide school funding bond that would benefit Sullivan County, Kingsport and Bristol, Tenn., public schools and, thus, help fund the center at D-B.

The center would add capacity for about 400 students but also would replace dated science lab and classroom space with state-of-the-art facilities, D-B Assistant Principal Randy Watts told the Board of Education at its Thursday night meeting in a presentation. Most of the existing science rooms are about 1,125 square feet and tend to isolate students, and some have no dedicated lab space.

Watts said to envision plentiful 3-D printing equipment, collaborative classrooms with open spaces and labs like the ones used by colleges including the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and businesses such as Eastman Chemical Co. But the key is problem-based learning which emphasizes real-world applications, according to Watts. The UT College of Engineering also is a willing partner, he said.

“The Regional Science and Technology Center was really born out of the D-B 2.0 study,” Watts said, adding that science is the backbone of the center which also would include places for research and entrepreneurial programs, among other things, as well as for teacher personal development and possibly space open to students from Sullivan County and other local school systems.

Watts said a teacher task force of six has been looking at the idea and making sure it fits in with the established mission, goals and guiding tenets of the system. The center’s mission is “to create a culture that inspires innovation through science and technology,” he said.

The goals include supporting scientific inquiry and discovery, fostering creativity and problem-solving, offering meaningful career opportunities, providing application-based experiences through an integrated curriculum and utilizing the power and flexibility of technology, Watts said.

He said post Advanced Placement offerings, science resources and mentoring programs, an expansion of computer science, use of project-based activities and learning and expanded engineering offerings are among what the group believes the center should embody.

The group has looked at what is offered at the Gwinnett School of Math, Science and Technology near Atlanta and the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., as well as High Tech High, the full name of which is the Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs High Tech High Charter School in San Diego. 

Watts said classroom flipping, where “homework” is done at school and lectures are viewed at home, is a likely option, as are collaboration across different subject areas, including those outside science, virtual and distance learning and research learning opportunities. Another idea, he said, is individualized learning to meet individual student needs and real-world applications. Teachers would facilitate learning that sometimes would be led by students themselves, he said.

Also, he said the school would showcase D-B’s science talent through science fairs, community programs, competitions and science journal publications, with D-B possibly starting its own science journal.

A pilot oceanography class may be started in the spring of 2017 with help from Eastman, and the school may require four science credits to graduate instead of three, he said, with the possibility of honors astronomy.

The $140 million in capital funding would be shared based on the enrollment share of the three school systems, with the county system to receive slightly less than 50 percent. However, it would get an additional $20 million from the city school system, which has proposed buying the current Sullivan North High School and turning it into a middle school. The county school board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday with the county commission at a work session to address the facilities study. 

The county and city had separate but parallel facilities studies conducted by Tracy Richter. Bristol did one in 2006 and has its own plans for a new Vance Middle School. Kingsport’s plans include the science and technology center and a new middle school at North and somewhere in the MeadowView area, while the county’s plans in phase one include a new 1,700-student “career academy” high school near Northeast State Community College, a renovated East High and a new middle school in the East zone. South and Central high schools would become middle schools.


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