Parents get a taste of Eagle Tech

By CHRIS MEYERSStaff WriterWhen Myron Green arrived at the presentation Wednesday night for parents about Eagle Tech Academy, he had his doubts.He was afraid it was a program geared only toward a certain student — either one failing in school or one excelling at the top of the ladder.The parent of an eighth-grade student at Indian Springs Middle School worried Eagle Tech would “get away from the basics of high school” and be another notch on the totem pole of failed teaching fads.By the end of the night though, he and his wife said they would both feel comfortable if their child enrolled in the program his freshman year in 2011.“I like what I’ve been hearing,” Green said.Not all his questions are settled, though.Like others at the presentation, he wonders just what kind of student will best benefit from the hands-on, project-based learning involved with the integrated curriculum of Eagle Tech.“Obviously it isn’t for everybody, so who is it for?” Green said.The classroom sideof Eagle TechTo current Columbia City High School Assistant Principal Brady Mullett, who will be director of Eagle Tech, it’s for students who want to work.“This isn’t going to be easy,” he said of the demand placed on students enrolled in the program.The plan calls for students to attend the first four classes of the day at the Marshall building and finish the day with the final fifth class at CCHS.“They’ll still be able to get those classes … that are important to them, at the high school,” Mullett said.At the core of the New Tech program administered through Eagle Tech is the basis of combined curriculum and project-based learning that goes far beyond anything usually completed for in-class projects.“This is bigger than just posters … this is bigger than just put together a PowerPoint … we’re talking about very in-depth projects,” Mullett said.At Wayne High School’s New Tech program, Fort Wayne’s Edy’s Ice Cream plant tasked students in a combined math-art class to design a new package for the business.In doing so, students had to use volume and marketing formulas to see how Edy’s could get the most value for their containers. For the art part of the class, they needed to design the appearance of the container.Later in the year, a chemistry class needed to use the study of molarity and chemical compounds to create their own flavors. Students then had to determine how much they would need to sell a pint of ice cream to bring a certain profit margin.Upon completion of both projects, employees of Edy’s came to class, listened to the presentations and offered feedback.Mullett and WCCS Superintendent Pat O’Connor plan to partner with Whitley County’s businesses for similar projects.One hundred students will be the limit for each grade level at Eagle Tech.To meet the New Tech requirements, students will have 12 college credit hours by graduation, enough to equal a full semester at many colleges and universities.Internships and mentor positions will also be part of the curriculum, and voluntary community service can also count toward an elective course credit.“We want kids to get involved with our community,” Mullett said.The finances behind the projectAll of the plans to start Eagle Tech haven’t come without a price.By the time all three phases of work at Marshall are finished, the school estimates it will have spent about $3.6 million.Nearly $2 million dollars — $1,990,000 — comes from federal stimulus dollars awarded to the district this year.To use those funds, WCCS’s multi-building corporation, not the school district, will need to sell $1.99 million in bonds.The building corporation will then take ownership of Marshall and lease it to the school district for annual payments used to pay the bonds.“This financing document is virtually identical to all the other WCCS financing documents,” said Rod Wilson, with Citi Securities.The district must use its building corporation to issue the bonds because government entities can only issue up to 2 percent of their assessed value in bonds at any given time and recent pension bonds have nearly taken WCCS to its limit.Estimates call for annual lease payments of about $160,000 for a lease of 13 to 15 years. For those payments, the district expects a property tax increase of about 1.5 or 1.6 cents per $100 in assessed value.All board of school trustees members, except James Renbarger and Steve Hively, voted in favor of the lease.Payback for the $1.99 million will be at zero percent interest due to federal tax credits given to investors who buy the bonds.Another $850,000 in unspent stimulus funds from a bond issue in 2009 will also be used at Marshall.Any remaining expenses beyond the stimulus funds will be paid from the district’s capital projects fund, according to Tony Zickgraf, business and operations manager for WCCS.