ROCHESTER — Educators in Madison County are looking for a better way.

Current educational standards are outdated, they say, leaving students ill-prepared to compete in the global labor market. On Thursday, six local representatives turned to Rochester Community High School in Fulton County and its new way of thinking.

The 600-student school has shifted from a traditional curriculum to what is known as the “New Technology” model of project-based learning. Around 30 such schools exist around the country.

“We’re using a 100-year-old model for high school,” said Principal Dan Ronk of the current model. “We prepare the few for college. We prepare the masses to work in factories.

“If Rip van Winkle were to wake up today, the only place he would feel comfortable is in the classroom.”

Not so at Rochester, where English and social studies have been combined to create a “Global Perspectives” course taught by English teacher Dan McCarthy and geology teacher Tony Stesiak. Rather than the typical lecture format, around 50 students work in small groups, employing technology and creative thinking to complete projects.

“This is the class that everyone likes to come to,” freshman Zech Weiss said. “Everyone kind of transferred over to it, and now it’s really easy.”

Classrooms have been retrofitted to complement the new methodology. Instead of dry-erase boards or overhead projectors, teachers use Smart Boards, which project a computer image with a touch-screen interface on a classroom wall.

“What this really is, is a collection of best practices,” said James Willey, superintendent of Alexandria-Monroe Community Schools. “It’s not just the technology they’re using, but the way they’re using it.”

Rochester is one of three New Technology high schools in Indiana — the others can be found in Decatur and Indianapolis. Three more, in Columbus, Bloomington and North Daviess, are set to open next year.

In April, the Madison County Community Foundation used grant money to send 26 people on a four-day trip to two California high schools in the New Technology program.

The guests from Madison County represented an education coalition exploring the possibilities of bringing the New Technology model to five local school districts. While it’s not clear whether the models used in California or Rochester would suit Madison County, educators are willing to take that chance.

“If not New Tech,” said South Madison Community Schools Superintendent Thomas Warmke, “then what?”

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Find out more about Rochester Community High School and “New Technology” in the Saturday edition of The Herald Bulletin.

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‘New Technology’ education

On Thursday, a group of six Madison County representatives visited Rochester Community High School in Fulton County. This past school year, Rochester implemented the New Technology model of project-based learning. The six local representatives, listed below, will report their findings to a local education coalition:

• Susan Campbell, board member, South Madison Community Schools

• Sally DeVoe, director, Madison County Community Foundation

• Jim Person, director, John H. Hinds Career Center

• Charles Staley, president and CEO, Flagship Enterprise Center

• Thomas Warmke, superintendent, South Madison Community Schools

• James Willie, superintendent, Alexandria-Monroe Community Schools

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