The Upper Arlington Board of Education heard a report Monday night about High Tech High, a San Diego charter school known for its open approach to education and education administration.

The Upper Arlington Board of Education heard a report Monday night about High Tech High, a San Diego charter school known for its open approach to education and education administration.

Jeff Collette, director of operational technologies, and Toby Fischer, integration coach for 21st Century Skills, traveled to San Diego to study the school at the behest of the board. The school, originally funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has about 3,500 students in nine buildings and an annual operating budget of about $23-million.

Fischer said the school receives so much attention in education media that it has about 1,500 to 2,000 visitors annually, and the school has begun charging $150 per visitor.

"Every single kid talks clearly and articulately about what they were doing, why they were doing it and what the final result was going to be," Fischer said. "That was amazing. I don't think I've ever been in a school where every single kid could do that."

Among the practices that impressed Fischer and Collett are that teachers' department budgets are not done through the familiar purchase order process. Instead, teachers are simply given their budgets to spend as they see fit.

"Teachers get a prepaid credit card and that's their department budget," Collett said. "They have to turn in receipts for accountability, but they don't have to go through the purchase order process."

The buildings originally purchased for the schools were warehouse style buildings, which were remodeled to include large common areas to work in, small areas for students to collaborate together on projects, and classrooms separated only by glass panels, so that the atmosphere is open and visible throughout.

"Everything was kind of referred to as a fish bowl," Collett said. "All the classes are separated by panes of glass."

Fischer related a story about witnessing a teacher in one class making a point to students, realizing there was another student in a different classroom who could help talk about it, so he simply went to the next classroom and brought the student over.

What was remarkable, Fischer said, was that no one involved, either the other student or the teacher, asked any questions, raised any objections or obtained even any cursory approvals. They just went with it.

"Coming from the traditional approach, I was like, 'You can't do that,'" Fischer said.

Most of the instruction is by direct experience with the students working on projects, Collett said.

"We still saw lecture, but it was 10 minutes and very dense," Collett said.

Among projects done by the students was a two-week "field trip" where students performed DNA decoding on bushmeat on behalf of the Tanzanian government. Faculty for the school are drawn directly from industry and professional fields outside of teaching, and receive their teaching credentials on the job.

The dominant atmosphere, Collett said, was that students were in control.

"We were in awe of the lack of fear of failure," Fischer said.