Eastern Wake News

Knightdale High to redesign school, personalize four years

Jaclyn Ferraro, right and Nicole Ferraro listen to Knightdale High School principal Dr. Jim Argent explain the redesign program on Jan. 13.
Jaclyn Ferraro, right and Nicole Ferraro listen to Knightdale High School principal Dr. Jim Argent explain the redesign program on Jan. 13. kbettis@newsobserver.com

Next year’s Knightdale High School will look drastically different from this year’s school, starting with its name – Knightdale High School of Collaborative Design. That’s only the beginning, said Knightdale High School principal Dr. James Argent.

He and East Wake Area Superintendent Dr. Ed McFarland have proposed a redesign founded on personalized learning that prepares students to immediately jump into the workforce or college through real-life scenarios and learning methods in the classroom.

McFarland said the school began the process more than a year ago and has been heavily dependent on collaboration with the Knightdale area education work group, the superintendents, the office of school performance, the Wake County central services academic team, North Carolina new schools.

The goals in the project would be to improve graduation rates, increase student engagement, improve test scores and accelerate staff capacity and leadership growth, among others.

The breakdown

Under the redesign, the school will offer five institutes, including a leadership institute for freshmen and four specialized institutes for sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Currently, freshmen have four core classes and four electives each year. Argent said next year, first-year students will only have two open electives and two leadership classes to prepare them for high school success.

Upperclassman will eventually choose from the institute of innovation, the institute of creative design, the institute of government and global inquiry and the institute of entrepreneurship.

Students will have a variety of diplomas to choose from in addition to a standard high school diploma, including an advanced placement capstone diploma, a career readiness certificate, a service-learning diploma and a cumulative senior project.

Classrooms might even look a little different, with so-called learning hubs that would incorporate technology and laboratory space. Argent is looking to the future, where classrooms might look more like Google headquarters instead of a traditional campus, he said.

“We must move beyond desks and rugs,” he said.

Restructuring will include real-life problem solving, with more presentations in place of exams – like a “Shark Tank” style presentation for entrepreneur students, Argent said – electronic portfolios and a heavy emphasis on projects.

Argent hopes to have partnerships both internally and with local business and university partners for internships, apprenticeships, sponsorships and mentoring.

“Collaboration is a vital skill that must be taught to students,” Argent said. “[Projects] are only limited by student ideas.”

Employees at the school would be required to reapply to the redesigned school with a three-year commitment required. They would seek to add a month’s worth of pay to the 10-month contract for professional development. School officials don’t yet know how much that would cost.

Some concerns

During a presentation to the WCPSS Board of Education Student Achievement Committee, McFarland and Argent fielded questions, including how this is different from the East Wake High School model.

Deputy Superintendent for School Performance Cathy Moore pointed out that the change is different from East Wake High School because the administration will remain as one school and will invest heavily into the freshmen experience.

Argent also emphasized that it is not a career academy model, either, but the institutes will be personalized, so students are not pigeonholed into one track. He used the example of an entrepreneurship student interested in starting a business in Europe taking a European history class from the government and global inquiry institute.

Board member Jim Martin said the school should be aware that expensive, heavy staffing makes personalized learning successful.

“We have to strike that balance,” he said. He also expressed concern that the school be careful with promises of partnerships if they are unsure they could meet the needs of all students.

McFarland pointed out that the school would like to work with partners to guide curriculum or learning style in the classroom. Argent said they would seek advice from businesses about how to prepare students as high functioning employees at graduation.

Argent presented the proposal to student leaders on Jan. 13, the day after the school board’s committee meeting. He threw out ideas that would be possible under the institutes, such as building wells in Africa or implementing a school nutrition plan.

Students expressed excitement about the change.

“That’s like my dream. Can I fail and come back?” senior Nick Minori joked.

The project has a three-year timeline. School officials are aiming to launch the freshman institute and part of the sophomore institute in fall 2015.