Northbrook Middle School is located on 21 acres in an outlying area of Houston. A freeway runs through the district, separating affluent, single-family homes from areas of multi-family units housing an increasingly poor, increasingly ethnic population. Originally a middle-class suburban junior high school, Northbrook was closed in the mid-80s because of declining enrollments. The school was renovated and re-opened in the fall of 1991 as a technology-rich "school of the future".
Built around a two-story library/media center, the school contains a series of "areas," each containing five adjacent classrooms for core courses for a set of students who take most of their classes together. Each area also contains a well-equipped office for the four or so teachers who use it--desks, phone, scanner, printer, and computer. Special, separate classrooms house art, foreign language, music, band, and industrial technology classes, with individual offices for teachers. The school and grounds are immaculate--no graffiti; no litter. To avoid a hard, high-tech look, the staff have brought in country folk art and crafts to decorate the halls and offices. Northbrook has over 400 networked computers, with 4-6 in regular classroom and close to 30 in each of several labs.
Of the approximately 641 students enrolled in grades 6-8, 65% receive free or reduced lunch; 25% are classified as LEP or NEP; and 11% receive special education services. The majority of the student population is Hispanic (59%), followed by 29% Caucasian, Non-Hispanic; 6% African American; and 6% Asian/Pacific Islander. Only about 5% of the students have computers at home.
Northbrook's re-design demonstrates the effectiveness of careful planning. When rising enrollments required adding another school, the district superintendent argued that reopening an old school was more cost effective than building a new one. Believing that technology would be part of students' futures and a necessary addition to teachers' capabilities, he decided to make the school a showcase for educational uses of technology. Finding little political support for making Northbrook a technology magnet school, he took the risk of allocating significant funds to build a technology-rich school that would serve a primarily minority, low-SES student population. He hired Northbrook's new principal a year ahead of the school's reopening and charged her with developing a faculty for a "state of the art" middle school. He stressed effective schools principles, such as high standards for all students, monitoring and feedback, a safe environment, and a campus leadership team as well as the use of technology.
Linchpins of Northbrook's approach are the organization of teachers and students into co-located teams, 90-minute block scheduling with extensive access to technology, and site-based management.
For most of their day, students stay within an area, going from class to class and working with the teachers within a particular team. Each team typically includes one teacher each in mathematics, social studies, language arts, and science.
The 90-minute teaching blocks per day permit full lesson cycles, from teacher explanation and modeling to practice of applications in class, where the teacher can provide support and diagnosis. Students receive 90 minutes each in mathematics and language arts every day. The block scheduling also contributes to teaming and teacher professionalization. Each teacher has 90 minutes a day for planning and preparation; on alternate days these periods are used for team meetings. The scheduling allows the team to collaborate and individuals to master new skills or develop new units.
Major school decisions are made through consultation between the principal and an Operations Committee of 8 elected teachers who meet once a week.
In the team area offices, an impressive array of technology supports teachers' efforts Electronic mail facilitates communications among teachers and with the administration. The availability of Class Master reduces the time needed to report attendance and record grades.
Students' higher-level thinking is promoted by multifaceted activities that teachers plan using technology. For example, in a seventh-grade math project on the use of spreadsheets, students estimated and collected measurements of body dimensions, entered data on spreadsheets, explored ways of representing the data graphically, and wrote a brief narrative at the word processor describing their approach and results.
In industrial technology classes, students worked in collaborative groups to design and produce a variety of products. Projects as long as a semester are interdisciplinary, involving reading (e.g., reviewing manuals, conducting market research), writing (e.g., technical reports and project descriptions), math (e.g., drafting and scaling product designs, calculating costs of materials), science (e.g., studying physics as it relates to the performance of materials), and design (e.g., computer-assisted drafting and design). Students formed companies and produced products for sale. They are encouraged to access outside information via the state education network or from CD-ROM.
Northbrook has its own Technology Committee and Technology Manager. Technology topics are often discussed in faculty meetings, and the technology manager hosts a "promising practices" series. A good portion of district-provided in-service time is devoted to refining skills in teaching with technology. The district has provided leadership and technical support for the technology innovations, but left decisions about details to the local site.
In the year after it opened, Northbrook's students were second in their district in terms of mastery on grade 6 mathematics objectives, despite the fact that the school is sixth lowest out of seven middle schools in SES. On the state's assessment system, Northbrook students consistently score well above their peers at other schools serving students from similar SES and ethnic backgrounds. A portfolio of school accomplishments is maintained, and there have also been student portfolio projects in many of the classes. The annual teacher survey of effective school correlates shows high teacher satisfaction with Northbrook. The attendance rate is high (97%), and dropout and retention-in-grade rates are low.
Houston, TX 77080
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