This Silicon Valley High School Is the Ultimate Incubator
Ken Montgomery has always nurtured star students. One went on to become President Obama’s deputy chief technology officer; another founded a coding school in Nebraska; still others are Rhodes scholars and Harvard PhDs. But the English teacher and debate coach had no idea what he was doing right—until he started polling those former students. The secret wasn’t test prep or more homework, they told him. It was that Montgomery had encouraged them to create. What if, he thought, he built a whole school around that idea?
Cofounded with fellow educator Nicole Cerra, Design Tech High School—known as d.tech—opened in 2014. At first, students were holed up in a single corridor of Mills High School in Millbrae, just south of San Francisco, earning it the nickname “Half-a-Hallway High”; the next year, d.tech relocated to a former auto body shop in nearby Burlingame. (The school’s unofficial mascot is the koi, a fish that’s said to grow to fill any container.) “For a long time we were considered a joke school,” junior Vani Suresh says, “a ‘weird nerd’ school without walls.” That changed last year, after Oracle and the Oracle Education Foundation, the software corporation’s philanthropic arm, offered the nomads a parcel of land on its campus in Redwood City and $43 million to build a permanent home.1
D.tech is a free public charter school and admits about 135 students a year via lottery. Each day, these Chromebook-clutching teen techies wander into classes ranging from music theory to the future of VR and AR, plus seminars taught by Oracle employees and other working professionals. Then there’s the school’s two-story, 8,000-square-foot Design Realization Garage—picture Arduinos, 3-D printers, laser cutters, and soldering and sawing tools—where students can explore new tech and hack together prototypes. “We’re trying to develop creative confidence. Kids don’t just passively receive things; they actively design them,” Montgomery says. High school: It’s the ultimate incubator.
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Lauren Murrow (@laurenmurrow) is a senior editor at WIRED. She wrote about tech elites’ escape plans in issue 26.02.
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1 Correction appended, 3 April 2018, 1:30 PM EDT: This story was amended to clarify that both Oracle and the Oracle Education Foundation provided land for the high school.
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