Top 30

Team High Tech High, California

Frank Rogozienski

Gary Jacobs, Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board of Trustees

Larry Rosenstock, Chief Executive Officer

Kay Davis, Secretary, High Tech High School Board

Ben Daley, Chief Academic Officer

Back in 2000, San Diego business leaders grew frustrated with the lack of communication and teamwork skills that high-school graduates displayed when they applied for engineering jobs. Instead of just talking about the problem, they worked together with educators to create the Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs High Tech High, which introduces students to engineering, helps them learn the skills they’ll need in the workforce and sends about 98 percent of its students off to college.

Students learn by making things and solving challenging problems related to issues they’re interested in, and they work together with teachers to design their own learning experiences. The concept proved so successful that it became a local network of 13 charter schools called High Tech High.

“We think the kids should work hard and have fun,” said Larry Rosenstock, CEO of High Tech High and one of the school’s founders, who allowed filmmaker Greg Whiteley into the school for the documentary Most Likely to Succeed. “We want school to be fun; we want them to enjoy being here.”

As its name implies, technology is infused throughout High Tech High, which enables students to present and publish their work. In fact, students have published more than 200 books in the last 16 years.

“We think making student work visible is one of the most powerful moves we’ve made since we opened,” said Ben Daley, who started as a physics and math teacher in 2000 at the original high school and is now the chief academic officer over all 13 schools. 

Teachers have the autonomy to design learning experiences and are usually hired for their deep content knowledge, then trained at High Tech High’s teacher credentialing program in collaboration with the University of San Diego. They can also earn advanced degrees at High Tech High’s Graduate School of Education. 

Over the last number of years, High Tech High has focused on addressing a gap in D and F grades that falls along race, gender and income lines. At its highest point, 6 percent of white and Asian boys earned these grades, compared to a high of 14.5 percent of African-American, Latino and Native American boys. Within the last year, those numbers have dropped to 2.3 percent and 3.5 percent respectively. 

“We’ve changed so many lives because they’ve had this education and decided to stay in it as opposed to dropping out,” said Gary Jacobs, co-founder and chairman of a number of High Tech High boards who, along with his wife, donated $3 million to start the original school. Daley would like to see many other schools and educators around the world give their students opportunities to go deeper with their learning as High Tech High has done in San Diego.

And School Board Secretary Kay Davis would like to see the schools live on long after she’s gone.  “I hope we’ve gotten the culture going strong enough so that when Larry and Gary and I die, everything is running smoothly,” Davis said. —Tanya Roscorla