Innovations in Education: Successful Magnet High Schools
September 2008
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Design and Architecture Senior High School


Selected Characteristics of Magnet School and Host Districta
Magnet School: Design and Architecture Senior High School Host District: Miami-Dade County Public Schools
Year Established as Magnet 1990 Population Type Minority/urban
Theme Visual arts and design: architecture; interior, industrial, and fashion design; entertainment technology; visual communications Size 2,000 square miles
Grades 9–12 MSAPb Funded 1991–2007
Enrollment 479 students Enrollmentd 27 magnet high schools out of 77 high schools in district; 13,509 students in magnet high schools out of 108,462 students in grades 9–12 in 2006–07
Student Ethnicity 52% Hispanic
16% African-American
28% White
1.5% Asian American
Student Ethnicityc 61% Hispanic
27.9% African-American
9.9% White
1.1% Asian American
1% Multiracial
Special Education 4% Special Education 12%
Free or Reduced-price Lunch 36% Free or Reduced-price Lunche 61.2%
English Language Learners < 1% English Language Learnerse 16%

a Source: DASH 2006–07,

b U.S. Department of Education’s Magnet Schools Assistance program

c Source: Miami-Dade County School District student demographics 2006,

The buzz of excitement is palpable in the industrial design room at Design and Architecture Senior High School (DASH). Students have just received printed glossy cards showing their entries in a chair design contest cosponsored by Dacra Development, a Miami real estate and restoration firm, and the HSBC bank in Switzerland. From their 48 designs, 11 finalists were culled, and five were chosen and manufactured as prototypes. Tomorrow, the winners' prototypes will arrive, just in time for the annual Miami Art Basel Festival. The students' high-caliber work shows how DASH, ranked by U.S. News and World Report in 2007 as the nation's eighth best high school, encourages innovation and creativity through interdisciplinary, project-based learning. As DASH principal Stacey Mancuso says, "There isn't a student here who isn't driven." They discover that "you don't have to be a starving artist to pursue a career in the arts."

DASH was founded in 1990 through Miami-Dade County Public School's Saturn School Initiative, an effort to create leading-edge teaching and learning models throughout the school district. It is an exemplar of a career-focused high school program, the first in the district to focus on design careers in the arts. DASH combines a rigorous academic program with specialized design training. Located on a three-acre campus in the heart of Miami's recently revitalized design neighborhood, DASH serves students from the entire Miami-Dade County area. In the 2007-08 school year, it enrolled 479 students in grades 9-12, more than two-thirds of them from minority backgrounds. According to the College Board, DASH is an international leader in Advanced Placement (AP) exam participation and performance with the largest number of African-American and Hispanic students scoring 3 or higher on the AP Studio Art exam.25

Mission and Curriculum

Founding principal Jacqueline Hinchey-Sipes coined the DASH motto "Education by Design" that is articulated in the faculty handbook: "Our vision is to educate talented students to become confident and critical thinkers through interdisciplinary challenges in the visual arts in preparation for college and a career in the design world." The school's curriculum features five strands: Architecture/Interior Design, Fashion Design, Entertainment Technology, Industrial Design, and Visual Communications/Web Design, combined with rigorous liberal arts courses. Admission to DASH is selective. Students must complete an application that includes a portfolio of ten art works, a sketchbook of drawings, and an audition on campus in which they are asked to complete several drawings in charcoal, pencil, and ink, take a short tour of the school, and have an interview with a DASH teacher. The highly coveted spots result in a school with low attrition. Students work hard to get there and even harder to stay.

The college preparatory curriculum exceeds state and district requirements for high school graduation. Students take eight classes, completing 32 credits for graduation, eight more credits than the state requirement for graduation. Academic class periods run for 100 minutes, with classes meeting either Tuesday and Thursday or Monday and Wednesday, as well as every other Friday. The school day is extended by an hour, running from 7:40 a.m. to 3:35 p.m. with eight periods. The school's curriculum also exceeds state requirements in terms of its content. Both the art design and college preparatory classes are rigorous. In each of the five design strands, students complete required course work from five curriculum areas: technical skills; fundamentals and historical perspectives; advanced techniques and applications; business essentials in design and marketing; and core studies. The curriculum requires that all juniors and seniors take AP portfolio courses, creating a digital portfolio of their art and design products for college applications, local and national competitions, and college admissions offices. In addition, their rigorous liberal arts requirements include: social studies, world history, American history, government, and economics courses offered at regular, honors, or AP levels. Mathematics courses are aligned to prepare students for college from basic algebra through AP calculus. Technology is integrated into courses with CAD (computer-aided design), multimedia, Web design, digital photography, and basic applications. Three languages (Spanish, French, and German) are offered, and students can take the college requirement of two years, or extend to four years in a language. Every day there are 30 minutes of sustained silent reading in all classrooms simultaneously.

At DASH, teaching strategies are often interdisciplinary and teachers incorporate seminars, studios and workshops, and self-directed study for students. Through courses and projects, students are shown the connections between their class activities and assignments and the jobs and projects that professionals undertake in the design fields. From the outset, students are shown the connections between school learning and real-world applications in art careers.

Students are encouraged to work on community projects. In 2005, when Hurricane Wilma blew down an observatory tower in Everglades National Park, DASH architecture students were invited to design a replacement structure for the observatory tower. Each student drafted plans and submitted them to a local architectural firm for review. In a graphics class, students created a virtual gallery for a 400-foot-long white corridor at the Miami airport that remained on display for three years. Airport officials have asked DASH students to create a new installation for another concourse.

Internships with practicing artists and designers introduce students to landscape architecture, what it is like to work in a gallery or museum, develop art in public places, and assist in a variety of design businesses. To participate, seniors must have a 3.0 grade point average, parental consent, an excellent school attendance and conduct record, and access to transportation. Often, students work with DASH alumni who are professional artists in the field. In 2007-08, out of 120 seniors, 75 were participating in internships.

Ensuring Student Success

To prepare students to meet their high standards, DASH teachers provide intensive study courses and specialized tutoring in mathematics, reading, and science for students who require additional help. Teachers use annual and interim test results to restructure efforts in the classroom and to analyze which students need additional tutoring and academic support. Online data of interim testing results help teachers to identify specific skills that targeted students need to work on. Teachers also analyze student SAT scores and results from the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) to identify those areas where they need additional work. For example, if testing shows that students are struggling with graphing, the teachers will create a set of activities to reinforce the fundamental concepts.

Teachers provide lunchtime tutoring, and junior and senior students also will tutor freshmen and sophomores. The school offers a Saturday program for students with low FCAT scores or those who have been recommended by teachers as needing additional support. Grade-level teams of teachers meet on Tuesdays, keeping an eye on particular students who need assistance. "We talk in a positive manner and try to work to students' strengths," says one teacher. "If a student is not doing well, we ask, 'How do we help? What's the home situation? How is he doing in your class?' Someone will take on a mentor role, and often we arrange for parent conferences during our team meeting time."

DASH helps its diverse student population achieve at high levels so they can continue their education in universities and art schools. The graduation rate typically varies between 98-100 percent. In 2007, 138 DASH students took dual-enrollment courses at local universities, enriching their high school experience and preparing them for college. In 2007, seniors were offered a total of $9.6 million in merit scholarships. With a diverse faculty and student body representing 37 different countries, including Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Chile, Argentina, Morocco, Cuba, and Pakistan, many students will be the first person in their family to attend college. As principal Mancuso says, "DASH is providing school choice for kids who might not fit in at other schools. They are super artsy and bright and a real mix of kids."

Building School Capacity

With two administrators, 33 full-time classroom teachers, eight resources specialists, 20 support staff, and seven adjunct teachers, there is constant activity at DASH. Principal Mancuso is also a professional painter and sculptor, and teaches a class at DASH. The school has had its share of growing pains. Currently in her ninth year, Mancuso explained that when she first arrived at DASH, "It was second best. There were many adjunct faculty who were very creative, collaborative, and engaging teachers. But as part-time faculty, they simply weren't around enough for the students." So she encouraged strong adjunct faculty members to pursue their teaching credentials and become full-time staff. "All of our program teachers are from industry. They are not education majors. The industrial design teacher designed the sunglasses on her head. The architecture teacher is still a registered architect. Florida gives teachers three years to complete their credentials. Tom Pike, the film instructor, did his online in six months." So now, the industrial design instructor has changed from teaching two courses as an adjunct to teaching six courses full-time.

When principal Mancuso arrived at DASH, she made several changes to the program to increase the level of rigor by expanding the AP and honors programs, making AP Studio a mandatory course for all juniors and seniors. She increased the number of class sections required for the architecture strand, expanded the faculty, hired a fifth math teacher to decrease class size in mathematics, lengthened the school day by an hour, and raised the graduation requirements.

As the district and state mandates for accountability have increased, DASH made adjustments accordingly. In 2007, the faculty was composed of certified Miami-Dade County Public School teachers, professional designers, and college instructors, with 36 percent of the teachers having master's degrees, and 22 percent having specialist or doctoral degrees. More than half of the teachers are trained in the specialized reading instruction Project CRISS (Creating Independence Through Student Owned Strategies).

Achievement and Outcomes

DASH has made adequate yearly progress (AYP) for the past five years in a district that has not. And it has the highest writing scores in the district, outperforming 56 of the 57 district high schools. The school is known for its consistent high performance on testing. DASH qualified for the sixth consecutive year as an "A School" in Florida's A+ Plan for Education, the state's school accountability program, which grades each school's performance according to such factors as student achievement, dropout rates, and college readiness.

The school has received many other accolades and recognition for its arts and academic achievements. In 2007, DASH was honored by the U.S. Department of Education's National Blue Ribbon School program, designed to recognize schools that demonstrate academic excellence. The class of 2007 exemplifies the school's high academic achievement: 87 percent enrolled in four-year colleges, 13 percent enrolled in two-year colleges, and 73 percent are majoring in architecture, art, and design programs. As table 5 shows, the percentages of 10th-grade DASH students who scored proficient or above on the 2007 reading, mathematics, and writing assessments exceeded district and state achievement rates.

Table 5. Percentages of 10th-Grade Students Scoring Proficient and Above On 2007 State Assessments at Design and Architecture Senior High (DASH) as Compared to the District and the State

Subject DASH Miami-Dade District State of Florida
Reading 75% 27% 34%
Mathematics 96% 57% 65%
Writing 100% 42% 79%

Source: Florida's Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT),

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Last Modified: 11/19/2009