Since the mid-1990’s, when a group of business, government and community leaders overcame differences and came together to create an award-winning solution for the City of Napa’s long-term flooding problems, Napa has been known for its ability to partner for the common good. After the flood plan became successfully resolved, some members of the group moved on to do something about another pressing issue – education. They formed a coalition to transform public schools that would become NapaLearns.
In Napa County, the biggest challenges include pockets of high poverty, a large number of immigrant children who are English Language Learners (ELLs), and many students who are not engaged in school, finding it irrelevant in their technology-enhanced lives. Of the total enrollment in Napa County, 22.8% of students are English Language Learners and 46.3% are socioeconomically disadvantaged.
The visionaries who began Napa’s education transformation were driven by the idea that all Napa County school children should be educated in a way that prepares them to participate in the 21st Century workplace. In 1996, Napa business and community leaders partnered with the Napa County Office of Education and Napa Unified School District leaders to create New Tech High School and a design for a 21st Century learning environment that would be carried out in the public school system, to be available to all students. New Tech High quickly drew praise and a major grant from the Gates Foundation to take the model nationwide. With that support, a new organization, New Tech Network, was established. Their effort has been so successful that there are now 180 New Tech Network schools in the US and Australia.
In 2010, thanks to a generous grant from the RES Foundation, matched by Auction Napa Valley and other individual donors, NapaLearns was formed to help bring the 21st Century model to all Napa County public schools. To achieve this goal, NapaLearns partnered with the districts to provide professional development for teachers, introduce new educational technologies, and support project-based learning.
In addition, NapaLearns introduced a Digital Early Learning pilot to infuse iPad based personalized curriculum into primary schools countywide. With an investment of $6 million over five years, hundreds of teachers and thousands of students have been able to experience technology-enhanced 21st century learning environments, paving the way for a revolution in education countywide.
The Napa Valley Unified School District can now boast 10 New Tech Network schools from K-12, so that students in that district can proceed throughout their career in the 21st Century model. Howell Mountain Elementary School is also a New Tech School. St. Helena, Calistoga, and Pope Valley School Districts provide a tech-infused learning environment for all of their students. During the 2015-2016 school year, Napa High School will begin introducing the New Tech model to all 9th and 10th graders.
Guided by our stellar board of community and education leaders, including Silicon Valley ex-pats and local business professionals, we are transforming public education in Napa County. Transforming existing public schools is hard work, and we aim to continue to invest to help all schools reach their goals. Our model serves as an example of what can be done when community leaders partner with school leaders, investing in their children’s futures for the good of all.