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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 17, 2012 7 years ago

Value Dependent

Tampa Prep responded to the recession with a plan to add value for its students and their parents by mixing in more hard sciences while retaining liberal arts for a combined education.
by: Rod Thomson Staff Writer

Tampa Preparatory School's Board of Trustees looked into the eyes of the recession and realized it needed to respond. The world was changing.

Like a business, Tampa Prep has to please its customers -- parents and students — if it wants to remain viable.

“We continued to ask the question about value,” says Kevin Plummer, head of school at the private facility sitting on the Hillsborough River next to the University of Tampa. “Families that are out there have become value-conscious. Everybody is willing to put the finances in the places they need to put them when they see value is there.”

Without losing any of the school's strengths, the board wanted the school to recast itself to give decision-making parents more value for their investment.

School leaders realized that Tampa Prep needed to “educate students for their future, not our past,” Plummer says. “We decided to take a bold step. You have to throw your flag somewhere — saying, 'we believe this is what the future is going to look like, we believe these are the skills that will be necessary.'”

The school chose to throw its flag at the vaunted STEM areas: science, technology, engineering and math, while mixing in a healthy dose of liberal arts. Essentially, the school wants to send students out who are ready to be engineers and scientists and technology entrepreneurs but who can also readily communicate their ideas with colleagues, businesses, investors and the public.

Plummer says the school wants to avoid the silos of STEM and liberal arts. It plans to do this by blending both educational areas to erase the caricature of the incoherently mumbling scientist or engineer. That, Tampa Prep believes, gives its students the best shot at successful futures and, thereby, gives parents the best value for their tuition — which tops $19,000 per year.

For instance, in addition to plenty of advanced placement classes in the hard sciences, all STEM students are required to give a public speech each year and be versed in the basics of classic liberal arts.

“We're looking to blend all of those hard sciences with a rigorous liberal arts agenda that helps them be great writers and great speakers,” Plummer says. “We have very great people (in the world) who struggle with their self-expression.”

The school is planning to give students real-world, practical applications, from roller-coasters to computer programming to robotics to auto-cad. “At the end of four years, our students should be as prepared as any students in the country to join an elite and select engineering program,” he says.
A multi-year rollout of new technology is an integral part of that value addition.

Right now, a mix of 38 administrators and teachers in teams have iPads that they are beta-testing for a range of programs that will spread this coming year. By the 2013-14 school year, Tampa Prep will be a full, one-to-one iPad school. Every student, teacher and administrator will have an iPad that will be integrated into every aspect of the student's day.

“We want that iPad to be the most complete education solution possible -- textbooks, materials, delivery system, calendaring,” he says.

The school is still working on the best options for financing the plan, whether the iPads are school-owned or student-owned, leased or bought. Tampa-based AVI-SPL has been integral in helping the school create its vision for the “classroom of the future” concept.

The technology is planned to be fully integrated. For instance, one project this coming year is for engineering students to build a safe, functioning roller-coaster — combining math, physics and design — and use an iPod Touch to act as the roller-coaster. The Touch has a camera that can capture the ride on video and an accelerometer to measure the speed and force on the turns to understand the affects on the human body.

“This is cool stuff for a high-schooler to be working on,” Plummer says. But it's also practical for students going into the engineering, physics or math fields.

This is an example of the goal of not just using cool technology, but putting it to practical use to get the full value from the tech — and give the full value to the students.

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