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September 20, 2020
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Tech High School celebrates 20 years

By: Stephanie Derammelaere
August 9, 2019

On Aug. 9, Technology High School invites the public to join in celebrating their brand-new campus and 20th anniversary at an open house. The event will take place at the new site on 550 Bonnie Ave. in Rohnert Park and will include tours of the facility.

Technology High School began in 1999 as an ancillary program through Rancho Cotate High School, which was initiated by the Cotati Rohnert Park Unified School District, Sonoma State University, Hewlett Packard and the Autodesk Foundation. It continued to be affiliated with Rancho Cotate for several years, with students taking integrated science, engineering and math classes together, and the rest of their high school core classes through the main high school. 

“The decision to start Technology High School revolved around the project-based learning idea,” says Dawn Mawhinney, Principal of Technology High School. “At that time, it was a pretty new idea. It was pretty forward thinking considering that project-based, hands-on learning is still the best way to instruct, especially in STEM areas. It was really to encourage kids in STEM careers.”

The high school became its own independent school in 2002, starting with the class of 2006. From that point on, additional humanities, foreign language, physical education and elective programs were created and offered, and the school took over a portion of the Ruben Salazar Building on the Sonoma State University campus. The first graduating class was approximately 30 students. 

“We kept the tenants of those ideas and project-based learning,” says Mawhinney. “But the school outgrew the rest and went on in their own direction. They were doing integrated curriculum way before that became a thing.”

Since then the school has continued to grow, with recent graduating classes hovering between 70 and 90 students. Technology High School was first announced as a Distinguished School in April 2005 as part of California’s Distinguished School Program, due in part to the quality of the students’ work, the high-grade average and the outstanding STAR testing scores. The school continued being selected as a California Distinguished School every year of eligibility, was recognized as one of the best high schools in America by U.S. News and World Report and was a Magna Award winner by the American School Board Journal. Today it attracts a wide gamut of students due to its high rankings, its small campus size and its emphasis on group-based, project-based learning. 

“That marries that cross-curricular idea, that students are good at math and science and they have interest, but their interests are also broader,” says Mawhinney. “Today the school allows for that. Bringing in the electives too, gives them a broader spectrum and makes sure they’re well-rounded.”

Approximately 100 new freshmen will be introduced to both the school and new campus on Aug. 12, 12-2:30 p.m. at a special orientation. Returning students may stop by anytime Mond., Aug. 12 from 12-2:30 p.m. to pick up schedules, make counseling appointments, etc. As of now the tour and picnic that was planned has been postponed. 

“The tours we’re doing for the public of the new campus this year is because I’m sure the community and alumni are curious and they’d like to see what these bonds have created for the students and the education in the community,” says Mawhinney. “To see what everyone has done – it’s been a group effort – is a great opportunity. Normally it’s only for prospective and returning students but we thought it’d be appropriate to open it up to the community and alumni.”

The classrooms and office spaces are guaranteed to be ready by the time school starts Aug. 13, but other areas such as the quad and landscaping will not be ready for another few weeks. While it will certainly be a transition moving to a whole new facility, students, parents, and staff are eager to move forward in the new campus.

“They [the students] are a little sad about leaving SSU but they’re incredibly excited to have their own space and have state-of-the-art science classrooms and have a shop,” says Mawhinney. “The kids have expressed that they’re very excited to have those things that a new campus can offer and a place that’s just theirs. It has been an overwhelmingly positive response from them.”