What are you doing Sunday night?
If you’re in Atlanta, and not spending the Memorial Day weekend on the beach, I’d like to invite you to the first-ever Tech High School graduation.
The official history: Tech High was born out of the determination of respected, successful business, community and educational leaders in the metropolitan Atlanta area to deal with the student performance needs of Atlanta and the shortage of highly skilled workers in Georgia. Seed capital came from a generous donation from the partners at Noro-Moseley, then TAG adopted Tech High as a target for donations. Don Chapman, a Georgia Tech graduate, Atlanta native and successful entrepreneur, took the early leadership of the Tech High Foundation, raising several million dollars to establish THS as a charter school within the Atlanta Public School system to deal with the student performance needs of Atlanta and the shortage of highly skilled workers in Georgia.
The unofficial history: The Atlanta Public School system is a expensive disgrace. It’s too big to fix, but it’s not too big to humiliate. By taking the same students as APS (charter schools, unlike magnet schools, don’t get the luxury of admissions tests and admissions standards), but without the soul-killing bureaucracy that dominates APS, we could demonstrate in microcosm that the problem isn’t the students… it’s the system.
We initially thought that applying technology would be the solution, hence the name Tech High. “Laptops! Eight o’clock! Day One!” It turned out that we were getting ninth-grade students scoring at the fifth-grade level in reading and math. So some of the more ambitious technology projects were put on hold in favor of some old-fashioned fundamentals. Yes, you have to do your homework. Yes, you have to wear a uniform (nothing exotic: khaki pants, and any solid-colored shirt with a collar and no words on it). Yes, you have to shut up when the teacher is talking. Yes, we’re going to hire teachers who actually give a damn about the students.
It makes a difference.
We started with a ninth-grade class of 100 students in the 2004-2005 school year. About half of those students are still with us, and we’ve added one class every year… so, this year, THS was a full four-year high school with our first-ever senior class. We’ve survived an eviction by the city of Atlanta (after we spent $600,000 to renovate the SciTrek building, they kicked us out, but have left the space vacant for three years). We survived a boiler explosion in the 1920s-vintage school building we’re now occupying on Memorial Drive. We even survived the recent tornado, which made a direct hit on the school. And the reason is the students.
These kids are awesome. We don’t dwell on their backgrounds but, as one parent described her son “He’s not just the first person in our family to go to college, he’s the first in our entire church!” They’ve busted their tails on their schoolwork, and it shows.
There are years when the entire dinosaur herd of the Atlanta Public School system (50,000 students) sends one graduate to Georgia Tech. In our first senior class of 43 students, Tech High School is sending three.
We have another graduate with a full ride to Emory. We have other graduates going to Mercer, to the University of Georgia… we already have 40 out of the 43 accepted to college, and we’re not done yet. These kids are embarked on productive, fulfilling lives that wouldn’t have been possible had they been warehoused in the APS “schools” immersed in crime, violence, and despair.
Our first graduation ceremony is Sunday afternoon, at 5:00, at the Ferst Center (Georgia Tech campus). It’s free and open to the public. If you live in Atlanta—or if your company hires employees in Atlanta—come see a demonstration of hope. Come see the future.