North Daviess Leads the Way in Providing New Educational Opportunities
By Barbara Gillenwaters
Along the hills of State Road 58 in southern Indiana sits North Daviess 21st Century Junior/Senior High School, a thriving, forward-thinking, innovative school community serving 475 students in grades seven through 12. The school opened as a New Technology High School in 2008 under the leadership of principal Jed Jerrels. For Jerrels, working with the small school located in rural Elnora, Indiana, fulfills both personal and professional goals—to focus on family while being part of a cutting-edge school that is preparing all its students for 21st-century success.
North Daviess Community Schools was able to move quickly with its implementation of New Tech because of a strong technology infrastructure and a supportive community willing to try new things. The district is one of only a small number of school corporations nationwide that have traditionally provided laptops to students for classroom and home use. For the last four years, the school corporation has been a recipient of the Ed Tech Grant Program which assists students in crossing the digital divide by ensuring that every student is technologically literate and encouraging the effective integration of technology through teacher training and curriculum development.
Jerrels and a team of parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, and community leaders were introduced to the New Tech model at an informational meeting in January 2008. After conducting additional research, North Daviess Community Schools requested and received funding through the National Governors Association Honor States Grant, administered through the Indiana Governor’s Office, to further explore the model. Jerrels then presented the idea to several classroom teachers and a team was assembled to travel in March 2008 to Napa and Sacramento, California, to visit schools using the New Tech model.
“While we were in Sacramento, everyone was delighted and impressed with the 21st-century educational experiences observed at New Technology High School. Near the end of our visit, the superintendent pulled me aside and asked if the staff and I could be ready for an opening in September 2008. After steadying my knees, calming my heart palpitations, and discussing the topic with teachers on the ride back to the airport, it was decided that we would begin to move forward with plans for a fall 2008 opening,” Jerrels said. The staff quickly mobilized to attend a weeklong training in May as well as the New Technology Foundation All Schools Training in June to learn about the integration of project-based learning into the curriculum.
A series of parent and community meetings resulted in strong parent, business and community engagement. Both the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center and the Daviess County Economic Development Corporation joined the team and have been strong supporters of the New Tech initiative. Jerrels said, “Several school board members are employed at Crane Naval Base and understand the emerging technological demands of the economy—the need for competence in core subjects, as well as the possession of 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and creating innovative solutions to complex problems.”
North Daviess 21st Century Junior/Senior High School opened on August 11, 2008, implementing the New Tech model with its freshman class. Within four years, all students in grades nine through 12 will utilize the project-based methodology in a school-wide implementation.
At the December 2008 North Daviess School Board meeting, Jerrels asked the board to consider plans to expand the 21st-century learning curriculum by increasing the number of class periods from seven to eight and increasing the number of teachers from nine to 15. These changes will move the school forward toward full implementation of the New Tech model.
According to Jerrels, “Change has not occurred without some resistance. Like most schools undergoing transformation, challenges often arise from individuals who are unwilling to work through or support innovative changes.”
One student distributed a letter school-wide encouraging fellow students to attend a school board meeting to voice their displeasure with the school’s changes. However, only the student writing the letter appeared at the board meeting. Jerrels and the student have agreed to disagree. “Nevertheless,” said Jerrels, “the support and willingness of the community to try new concepts are in large measure responsible for the early success of North Daviess 21st Century School.”
North Daviess is an exemplar of the pairing between education and economic development. The implementation of the New Technology High School model demonstrates the community’s commitment to providing a 21st-century education to every child. The presence of the Crane Tech Park, Indiana’s expansion of Interstate 69, and the well-educated students from North Daviess 21st Century Junior/Senior High School will create a highly qualified professional community to increase economic development in the area. With committed staff and students and dedicated leaders like Jed Jerrels, North Daviess and its community have taken a critical step on the path of educational reform to prepare students to compete in the 21st-century global economy.
Published: January 2009