Atransformation is going on at Dunbar High School. Administrators, parents, teachers, students, and community partners are excited about the new
opportunities offered to students enrolled in our award-winning technology programs. But this was not the case
more than a decade ago.
In the fall of 2000, Dunbar High School in Fort Myers,
Florida, USA, opened its doors with a diverse student population under the direction of Principal Carl Burnside. By
2004, enrollment had significantly declined, and the school
had one of the highest percentages of low-performing and
low-socioeconomic students in the district. Advanced-level
students and their parents were asking, “Why should I select Dunbar in a school-choice district?” And we needed a
What We Did
Our principal knew that something needed to be done
to revitalize Dunbar, or our school would be in deeper
trouble. Burnside reached out to a grant writer, Jana
Hambruch, who had a simple but revolutionary vision:
offer high school students the opportunity to train in a
professional learning environment while giving them the
chance to earn industry-level IT credentials. We won a
grant from the Magnet Schools of America to design a
program to help students develop the digital age skills they
would need to participate in a technology-savvy workforce.
By offering industry-certified credentials, we were able to
structure the content in a way that would prepare students
for college and career.
Our first program, the Academy for Technology Excellence, offered 9th–12th grade students hands-on IT experience taught by IT-certified instructors. Students had the
opportunity to earn more than 18 Microsoft, Comp TIA,
and Cisco certifications by the time they graduated from
high school (see “Academy for Technology Excellence” on
page 22). The program earned the distinction of being
the first Microsoft Certified High School in the world.
Soon the academy program began attracting not only
technology enthusiasts, but also students looking for IT
training on the creative side of the genre—digital media
and arts. We realized we needed to broaden the range
of skills offered through the program to satisfy our arts-oriented students. In 2009, we created the Academy for
Digital Excellence, which also offered courses taught by
IT-certified instructors and industry certifications.
With the initial model already in place, we easily incorporated the Academy for Digital Excellence into the Career and Technical Education (CTE) model. The Academy
for Digital Excellence students were a good fit for courses
we already offered, such as web development, digital design, and TV production. The core program requirements
were to train students in the digital-arts skills needed for a
career or college education. These students had the chance
to earn entry-level IT certifications in Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash, and Premiere Pro (see “Academy for Digital
Excellence” on page 22).
Courses Helped Students Succeed
Students of all abilities, drawn by the open-ended structure
of the curriculum, flock to these courses. They love that
they are getting real-life experiences, such as creating
websites, brochures, and presentations. One of our students designed a public service announcement for the
Florida Department of Education. Dunbar’s TV production studio leads students through all the facets of creating
a live broadcast. And in the summer, our technology
students organize the local YMCA’s Tech Quest digital
design camp for middle school students.
Even traditionally low-performing students from other
academic areas excelled in these classes. And the more
students gained confidence and success in academy classes,
the better they did in standard academic courses and on
It seemed that earning industry certification amplified
their feelings of success and motivated them to work harder on other tests. Students enrolled in the academies have
consistently scored above the district and state averages
on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
Many Played Important Roles
From the beginning, our academy programs have relied
on several key people, including the district CTE program
director, district IT director, principal, assistant principal
for curriculum, and local technology support technician.
Each played a valuable part to ensure that the program received up-to-date resources, technology upgrades, support,
and the proper training tools. Having industry-certified
instructors for the program ensures that the teachers are
competent, and it lends credibility to the program. Finally,
having a dedicated lead teacher to directly manage the content and structure, coordinate testing, collect and report