High-tech high school: saying hello to 'Mr. Chips'

It's the kind of private-public sector cooperation that many Americans, including President Reagan, feel can lift the United States out of its economic doldrums.

Here in northern California's ''Silicon Valley,'' a center for the nation's high-technology semiconductor industry, a public high school district and leaders of the semiconductor industry are pooling resources to prepare students for careers in electronics.

Paul Collins, superintendent of the Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union High School District, says he got the idea for a ''high-tech high school'' at an Industrial Education Council meeting some five months ago. A spokesman for National Semiconductor Corporation, located in Silicon Valley, told the group that young people coming out of high schools and junior colleges were not competent enough in the skills necessary to fill jobs in his industry.

Mr. Collins says he asked himself two questions: What do we need? Can industry share in providing it? When he posed his questions to semiconductor industry executives the response was ''immediate and positive.''

The result: This fall, barring unforeseen budgetary problems, a new school will open in a former elementary or junior high building centrally located in the district.

Many high school freshmen in his district, says Collins, already have ''computer awareness,'' general understanding of how computers work and can be used. Some even have ''computer literacy,'' basic skills including some programming.

The semiconducter industry is directly involved in the new program. A five-member board -- two from the school system, three from industry -- will set up the curriculum and have policy control.

In-service training programs of firms in the area are serving as models, to some extent, for the new school.

Companies will provide special training for public school teachers or will let their own employees devote part or full time to teaching in the new facility. Collins says the state education department will be asked to grant waivers of teacher certification requirements for these people.

Electronics firms, he adds, will furnish most of the equipment for the school as well as making direct financial contributions. The companies will monitor the program and evaluate performance of those who come out of high-tech high and take jobs in the industry.

Collins is confident start-up funds of about $1.9 million will be available from state's fiscal 83 education budget. He puts the annual operating budget at about $1.5 million.

California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. has made much of the need for the state's schools to prepare students for jobs in the growing computer industry. In his ''state of the state'' message in January, the governor said California should emphasize ''the three Cs -- computing, calculating, and communicating'' -- in public education. Collins says Brown has sent two observers to see how the high-tech high school is set up.

Faculty response to the plan has been good, says Collins, though some have expressed concern about a possible ''brain drain'' - top students abandoning English, foreign language, history, and other traditional courses to take training at the new school. But the superintendent says he feels the presence of the high-tech curriculum will just make teachers of traditional courses become ''more competitive'' -- in other words, force them to make their own classes more attractive to students.

Meanwhile, inquiries about the program are coming from across the United States. Electronics firms in the Boston area are particularly interested, Collins says. They and others have indicated they will be watching the program here for indications as to what they might do in their own communities.

'High tech high': learning byte by byte

High school students, freshmen through seniors, in the Los Gatos-Saratoga district will be eligible to spend one or two periods each day at ''high tech high school.'' They will be transported to the high-tech facility from their ''home'' schools, in which they will spend at least four periods a day.

The new school, says superintendent Paul Collins, is expected to be able to accommodate some 1,800 regular pupils a day. The hours from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. would be set aside for those not in high school, including adults and handicapped persons, to be trained.

High school pupils in the program will not be diverted from their regular courses into a rigid electronics ''career track.'' There will be two types of study available at high-tech high, explains Collins. One will be ''short range, '' for those who wish to go directly from high schools into jobs with electronics firms. The other will be for the college-bound -- those seeking to be future designers, engineers, and managers.

Collins says most students who want to go to high-tech high will be able to get in. If applications are too numerous, a selection process may be used. Students and others from outside the school district probably will be eligible to attend the school, he says.

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