A school designed to absorb future shock

WORD spread, and more than 700 extra students showed up this fall at brand-new Dr. Phillips High School, near Disney World. Some left private schools. Some moved into the neighborhood because of Dr. Phillips High. One family moved from Ohio, told their former neighbors about the school, and the neighbors moved here, too, says principal Bill Spoone.

Physically, Dr. Phillips is a state-of-the-art school, ready to absorb future shock without a flinch, to surf the ``third wave.'' It has been designed for whatever technology the beginning of the 21st century can throw at high school education - at least, as well as anyone can predict from here.

The key idea behind Dr. Phillips, architect James Dorsey explains, was to ask top-flight local businesses where technology in their fields was headed and to enlist their advice in planning the high school.

Disney World helped design a computerized greenhouse for horticultural studies and a commercial kitchen for culinary arts, as well as a mock-up hotel room for training mentally retarded students for service jobs.

Sea World helped design a marine laboratory and the curriculum to use it.

With the help of NASA's nearby Kennedy Space Center, the school has the capacity to eventually communicate by satellite with space shuttle astronauts.

The Orlando Sentinel helped design the lighting over computer terminals and underfloor wiring for flexible computer networking.

The local television station advised on the school's ample television studio and production facilities. Classes will be linked by closed-circuit television in each classroom, and regular school announcements, for example, will be broadcast from the studio.

But the technologies themselves don't win praise for Dr. Phillips High as much as the methodical approach to looking into the future of classroom tools.

``In looking around the country,'' says Jim Mecklenburger, a technology specialist for the National School Boards Association, ``there are still very few school districts where you can see a serious consideration of the role of technology in schools.''

More schools will soon be asking the fundamental questions asked in building Dr. Phillips, says Mr. Mecklenburger, who is the director of the NSBA's Institute for the Transfer of Technology to Education: ``What kind of wires do we need in the walls?'' he asks. ``And do we need the walls?'' (Dr. Phillips has movable walls for future adjustments.)

The look and feel of Dr. Phillips are no more traditional than the inside of its walls. Classrooms are clustered into pods or districts for different kinds of disciplines and activities. The central campus commons is sheltered from the central-Florida sun by a high canopy, like a Penn Station with palm trees inside.

With its neighborhoods and central gathering place, the school mimics a city, says Mr. Dorsey, president of the Pierce, Dorsey, & Rohrdanz architectural firm.

The $25 million cost of building the school is expensive for a high school of its size, but not exorbitant. Tax money built it; the consulting companies offered only their advice.

In the everyday world of students, classes, and curriculum, Dr. Phillips is fairly traditional after all. Students, at least, seem to find the place pleasant but ordinary.

``We're anything but a rich school,'' says Mr. Spoone, in describing a student body that is about 24 percent black and 5 or 6 percent Hispanic.

``It's more modernized, I'll give it that,'' says Gerald Osterberg, a junior. ``But that doesn't affect the math and science courses I'm taking.''

The flashier courses, like television production, filled up before Lawrence Johnson could get one, he says. What's left is high school business as usual: ``I'm your basic senior trying to get out,'' he admits.

Those who got into the television course are busy videotaping passing students in the commons, as teacher Christopher Curchy, who also runs his own production company, offers pointers. The department is selling videotapes of the school's grand opening for $20. Students will tape football games for coaches to analyze and theater productions for parents to purchase.

Already, it seems, the planners failed to foresee some things. ``This is a modern-day school,'' protests a girl climbing stairs. ``Give me escalators.''

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