Reimagining High School for All | Devin Vodicka | 4 Min Read

October 12, 2022

My interest in modernizing the experience of high school students began when I was just nine years old.  My mother, a computer teacher at our local high school, was innovating with new technology resources like laser disks, hypercard, and very primitive portable computers like the Osborne (which was the size of a large suitcase!).  That was back in the 1980s.

My first job in education was as a computer lab aide at Santa Cruz High School in the mid 1990s.  We were wiring the computers to this new thing called the internet.  The idea that students could conduct research and connect with others represented a dramatic expansion in what was possible for learning.  

By the time that I became Superintendent of Vista Unified School District (CA) in 2012, I had been working to improve and innovate high schools for two decades.  We were extremely fortunate at Vista High School to collaborate with Digital Promise and be one of the first recipients of the $10 million XQ Superschool Prize to reimagine high school around personal, challenge-based learning.  

During my time as a school and district administrator, I have seen and been a part of many efforts to modernize American high schools.  In addition to the technological improvements and innovations like the XQ project, I’ve been involved with numerous schedule changes where we considered an array of options for rearranging the length and duration of courses in various scheduling options. I’ve been a part of opening focus schools such as Sage Creek High School in Carlsbad which centers around a project-based, STEM orientation.  At Altitude Learning, we’ve supported Odyssey STEM Academy in Paramount (CA) where they take a learner-centered approach and partner with Big Picture Learning.  

And yet, in spite of all of these changes, the Gallup student poll continues to show high levels of disengagement from students during the high school years.  We have yet to modernize the core curriculum that is used in the vast majority of high schools.  The basic course sequence was informed by the work of the Committee of Ten in the late 1800s and cemented by the seat-time requirements incentivized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in 1906.  At that time, society was shifting from an agrarian economy to industrialism.  More recent “innovations” in the high school curriculum came almost a half-century ago when Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs…

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Devin Vodicka

Devin Vodicka is the CEO of Learner-Centered Collaborative and the author of Learner-Centered Leadership. He is also three-time California superintendent of the year (2016 AASA, 2015 ACSA, 2015 Pepperdine), Innovative Superintendent of the Year (2014 Classroom of the Future Foundation), and nine-time White House invitee, both in recognition for district-wide achievement, and to advise and partner with the U.S. Department of Education’s office of Educational Technology and Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools.