Dean Tech Reopens as a GRAD Academy in Holyoke, MA

Project GRAD has been keeping busy in Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley, as Dean Technical High School, a GRAD Academy, celebrated its opening day. On August 28th, students walked back onto a campus that they hardly recognized. After construction, a redesigned master schedule, and some revised policies, the reimagined school took most students by surprise. Some students were more than surprised – they were pleasantly shocked to be informed that they were no longer students, they were graduates.

Project GRAD USA CEO Daryl Ogden is pleased with the changes occurring at Dean, sharing, “We’re excited about the redesign and reimagining of Dean Technical High School.  Our goal is to make Dean a distinctive 21st century technical high school in Massachusetts as well as nationally and provide Holyoke students and parents with a truly great high school option.”

The $7.5 million renovation is the most visible change that Dean underwent this summer. Apart from the much-needed tune-ups – a new paint job, new cafeteria furniture – Dean students now have six state of the art science labs (which will ultimately be STEM labs) and three brand new computer labs. These new labs illustrate the New Tech Network influence on GRAD Academies; the labs will give students an improved space in which to learn, and the potential to learn in new and innovative ways.

Two of the computer labs will be for the general usage by all Dean students. The third will be unveiled in January as a Cisco Academy Lab for use exclusively by 11th and 12th grade students. Cisco Academy, a global education initiative that teaches students to be computer and tech savvy, comes to Dean as part of an articulation agreement with Holyoke Community College and the Massachusetts Green High-Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC). MGHPCC is a data center that supports the research of five research universities in Massachusetts: Boston University, Harvard University, MIT, Northeastern University, and the University of Massachusetts. MGHPCC is located in Holyoke, and will provide students a wealth of resources – both technological and collegiate.

Across the hall from these computer labs lies the College & Career Access Center that has become a staple in Project GRAD schools across the country. Here students receive help completing the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid), applying for scholarships, writing their college admission essays, and searching for jobs and internships. The resources provided by the Center are essential in promoting a college-going culture at Dean.

The rest of the changes to Dean were less visible, but perhaps even more important to student success. One of the influences GRAD hopes to have on Dean is to shift away from the traditional idea of a “vocational” school, and more towards the idea of a “career and technology” school. This shift in culture begins with a complete remodeling of Dean’s master schedule – including the addition of 74 minutes to each school day.

Previously, Dean students and teachers operated on a “week away” schedule, where students spent an entire week focused solely on their vocational shops, followed by a week focused solely on their academic courses. Project Director Greg Oliver has brought a new model with him from his previous home, Ohio – the AM/PM model. In this new master schedule, 9th and 10th graders spend the morning hours working in their career and technical labs, while 11th and 12th graders spend the morning hours in their academic labs. In the afternoon hours, they switch.

During one of nine daily periods, Career and Technical teachers team-teach with Academic teachers, providing students room to integrate what they are learning in practical ways through real-world situations. Another daily class period is on Occupational Related Theory, which teaches students the theory behind the practice of their chosen Career and Technical lab. This schedule integrates many different aspects of what students are learning, providing a rigorous and multidisciplinary approach that challenges students to make connections in new ways.

Another important change deeply impacted the lives of some students – after a revised graduation and grade promotion policy, eight Dean students were told they did not need to return for one last semester because they were now high school graduates. Principal Bacom explained how policies frequently become outdated, especially in a context as complicated as Dean’s: “Over the course of nine principals in twelve years, policies would change one year, the master schedule would change another year, and ultimately the way credits counted just wouldn’t work and wouldn’t align with state standards. It was actually more difficult to graduate from Dean Tech than it was Holyoke High School because of the old policy.” Under this updated policy, now aligned with state guidelines, eight Dean students have been awarded diplomas and are officially graduates of the class of 2013.

Students aren’t the only ones excited about the changes at Dean. Teachers are enthusiastic about the new design and organization of departments. The twelve Career and Technical labs are divided into four clusters, called Academies. There is the Transportation Academy (Automotive Collusion, Automotive Technology, and Diesel Technology), the Construction Academy (Carpentry, Electrical, and Metal Fabrication), the Personal Services Academy (Culinary, Health Assistance, and Cosmetology), and Manufacturing & Technology (Machine Tools, Web & Programming, and Graphics & Design). Each Academy has a lead teacher who directs the vision of their particular Academy and plans new and innovative courses for students. Academy leaders contribute to the campus leadership team, which also includes department chairs. Teachers are working together, across departments and Academies, in a new way towards a common goal.

Students, faculty, and administrators at Dean are excited to showcase their new home on October 9th at the school’s annual Open House. This year’s open house will exhibit a fair-like atmosphere, with information booths, food, and games. Over the next few years, Dean’s goal is to expand Open House Night to become a community event called Black and Gold Night.