High Tech High Media Arts
2015-2016 Model

Project-Based Learning Rooted in Equity and Relationships

Part of the High Tech High charter network, the staff of High Tech High Media Arts (HTHMA) has created a culture that allows a non-selective school to send a high percentage of their students to college, while preparing them to be collaborative, thoughtful, and creative citizens.

Student Population Free reduced lunch
Special Ed.
Staff / Student ratio
400 50 6 12 1/25

School Contact Info

High Tech High Media Arts
2230 Truxtun Road, Third Floor
San Diego, CA 92106-6025
Grades: 9-12
(619) 398-8620
Principal: Robert Kuhl
(619) 398-8632


High Tech High (HTH) was originally conceived by a group of about 40 civic and high-tech industry leaders in San Diego who were assembled by the Economic Development Corporation and the Business Roundtable. These leaders met regularly from 1996-98 to discuss the challenge of finding qualified individuals for the high-tech work force. In particular, members were concerned about the digital divide that resulted in low numbers of women and ethnic minority groups entering the fields of math, science, and engineering. 


In late 1998, the group voted to start a charter school and engaged Larry Rosenstock, then president of Price Charities in San Diego, as the founding principal. The founding group was clear about its intent: to create a school where students would be passionate about learning and would acquire the skills required for work and citizenship. Rosenstock brought a vision and a sense of the design principles by which this mission might be accomplished.

As demand for seats far out-stripped the size of the original school, HTH was able to create other autonomous schools in the same “village” campus and elsewhere in the state. High Tech High Media Arts (HTHMA) is the fourth school in the High Tech High network. High Tech High Media Arts was filled with teachers, leadership, and students from existing HTH schools so that people who have lived the HTH approach could start to make their own way together to create a new culture, based on the HTH design principles and with the support of the HTH network.


College Acceptance in 2014: 74%, 4 year; 20%, 2 year

Key Policy Considerations

State Policies

Course Requirements

HTH course offerings and graduation requirements are fully aligned with the A-G course requirements for admission to the University of California system.

State-wide Assessments

The school administers all required statewide assessments. With the transition to Common Core, requirements have recently changed. Currently, students take Smarter Balanced Assessments in the 11th grade in English and mathematics and the California Physical Fitness exam. The CELDT is administered to English language learners.

Teacher Credentialing

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing has approved High Tech High to certify teachers in the single subject content areas of mathematics, science, English, history/social studies, Spanish, Mandarin, and art; multiple subject and special education through its Teacher Intern Program. The HTH District Intern Program is accredited by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and provides the equivalent of a 120-hour pre-service program and 600 hours of training and practice over two academic years. The school is complying with all relevant state regulations.

District Policies

The district holds HTHMA accountable for its student performance and operational goals set out in its school charter.

Key Strategies

Design Principles

  • Personalization
    HTH teachers know their students well and are committed to a learner-centered approach that supports and challenges each student.
  • Adult World Connection
    HTH students connect their studies to the world beyond school through field studies, community service, internships, and consultation with outside experts.
  • Common Intellectual Mission
    HTH schools are diverse and integrated. Enrollment is non-selective via a zip code-based lottery, and there is no tracking of students by perceived academic ability.
  • Teacher as Designer
    HTH teachers are program and curriculum designers.

Curriculum and Instruction

Project-Driven Instruction

As per the design principles, teachers have a lot of autonomy, so teaching can look very different from classroom to classroom. The common thread across all classes is the focus on teachers and students doing "work that matters" (engaging in student-centered, project-driven learning). In keeping with the HTH design principles, teachers collaborate across disciplines to design the courses that they teach and the project around which each course is organized. Projects address essential questions that are relevant both to academic studies and the world beyond the school. They culminate in a product or performance, with intermediate products or "checkpoints" along the way and frequent opportunities for reflection and revision. Teachers study exemplars of outstanding project-based instruction to master HTH teaching practices.

An example of an interdisciplinary 9th-grade project:

Students are studying narrative structure in English and physics and media arts with a team of three teachers. The teachers collaborate to create a project where students create digital comic books that apply what they have learned about narrative structure and that demonstrate selected physics principles that their super heroes and super villians either comply with or explicitly defy.

Math Instruction

Math instruction after the 9th grade occurs both in dedicated math classes (which are not solely project-based) and as part of interdisciplinary project-based classes. An example of the latter is a semester of chemistry/humanities in the 10th grade.

An example math project

Digital Portfolios

The school’s students are required to create and maintain a personal digital portfolio. Although students may take creative license in the design of their portfolio, each portfolio must contain the following:

  • Articulation of future/educational objectives — These goals are constantly updated as students are encouraged to continue refining their plans for the future.
  • Maintenance of an updated resume in HTML and printable format
  • Projects – Samples of the student’s best work
  • Reflections – Student observations about his/her progress and future learning needs.  In addition, students are expected to ensure that their digital portfolios feature a simple, easily navigable design.


Eleventh grade students spend 3.5 weeks fully immersed in internships (30-40 hours a week). They come to school only once for a half-day seminar. Staff members visit students at their sites and stay in touch via blogs. Students, staff, alumni, and parents all work together to identify and recruit placements.

Senior Project

The school’s seniors must complete senior projects in a chosen focus area, such as graphic design or engineering. Students present their senior projects in a final “Transitional Presentation of Learning.” Teachers, parents, administrators, and community members sit on the senior presentation panels.

Course Taking

All students take the same classes except for one elective choice (an additional engineering or an additional media class) senior year. There is sufficient leeway for them within each course’s central project to pursue their individual interests.

Sequence for a 9th-grader:

  • Two semesters of blocked humanities (English and social science)
  • Two semesters of blocked math/physics
  • One semester of Spanish
  • One semester of multimedia


Standardized Tests

Students are expected to take the SAT/ACT prior to graduation. California’s testing scheme has changed in light of the Common Core State Standards. Students now take the Smarter Balanced ELA and math assessments in the 11th grade. As the choices for available interim Smarter Balanced assessments increase, the school expects to start using them as a measure of student progress, particularly in math. Teachers provide students with a grading narrative — of statements about behaviors, habits associated with a particular grade, taking into account progress and mastery.  For examples, see syllabi in the areas of biology and math.

Transitional Presentation of Learning (TPOL)

A Presentation of Learning is a formal presentation given by students to a panel of peers, community members, administration, teachers, and parents every year, using a digital portfolio to defend their readiness to enter the next grade.

  • At the end of the 9th grade, the framing question is how have they grown in their first year of high school.
  • In the 10th grade, students must show why they would make a good intern.
  • In the 11th grade, students describe the colleges they are interested in and why the colleges should be interested in them.
  • In the final POL, students must show why they deserve a diploma.

Before the POL, students practice their presentations in advisory. Advisories focus on presentation skills and give feedback to each student on how they can revise and improve their POL before the final presentation. Students will respond to one or two sub questions under each of the Deeper Learning Competencies.  The responses will be evidenced-based and assembled digitally.


HTHMA is located in a High Tech High village with other schools. Each school in the village is fully autonomous. Students take all courses at their assigned school. Teachers across the school collaborate informally.

HTHMA is divided into grade-level teams, which are split in half to form classes of approximately 25 each. The school has a full-inclusion model for SPED with inclusion support coaches working in classrooms and offering after-school support.

Schedule Basics


Schedule Overview




Schedule Features
  • Teachers teach four of the five 60-65-minute periods and a 40-minute advisory class (not all teachers have advisory).
  • X-Block, an elective driven by student interest, is offered twice per week instead of advisory.
  • Student's day starts at 8:30 am and ends at 3:30 pm.
  • Teachers meet from 7:30 am to 8:30 am twice per week for administrative meetings and professional development.


Sample Student Schedule

1st and 2nd period - Humanities I
3rd period - Spanish
4th and 5th period - Math/Physics


Professional Development

Teacher Onboarding

Odyssey is a six- or seven-day experience for new teachers who are led through an accelerated version of a project (project slice) prior to the return of the existing staff. Odyssey provides an opportunity for school leaders to model the inclusive practices that they would like to see in classrooms on a daily basis and also the elements of good project design. After the project slice, new teachers get to design their own projects, and they get workshops from veteran teachers on how to launch a project and how to help kids learn how to do effective critique. These are the elements that school leadership sees as essential in the daily classroom and in a project-based learning setting.

Teacher Collaboration and Relationship Building

Influenced by Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization by Dave Logan, building personal connections among teachers and leaders is seen as crucial for "making the magic happen." As part of the eight PD days that teachers have (in addition to Odyssey), teachers engage in a staff retreat, which focuses on relationship building. Also, the staff meets twice per week for PD and many teams share prep periods.

School PD days

The staff members typically meet through the morning and have the afternoons free for classroom work. Examples include walking neighborhoods to look for project inspiration and audience, visiting other schools, visiting museums to study ways of exhibiting student work, mapping projects for the next school year and getting them critiqued by students, planning dream projects, etc.

Teacher Credentialing Program

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing has approved High Tech High to certify teachers in the single-subject content areas of mathematics, science, English, history/social studies, Spanish, Mandarin, and art; multiple subject and special education through its Teacher Intern Program. The goal of the program is to prepare teachers to work in an environment that integrates technical and academic education while creating a sense of community engagement and responsibility. The HTH District Intern program situates teacher training in HTH sites where candidates can experience a 21st-century context for teaching and learning. The program provides direct, on-the-job training to recent graduates of post-secondary institutions, as well as to mid-career individuals in transition.

The HTH District Intern Program is accredited by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and provides the equivalent of a 120-hour pre-service program and 600 hours of training and practice over two academic years. Interns earn full-time salaries and benefits as teachers in charter school classrooms while working toward their credentials.

Student Community

Teachers strive to create a space for students where there are few limits on what they can do and there is safety to be able to take risks in their project work. Also, there is a sense of rigor and craftsmanship that is communicated through project work.  Through advisory, students have a sense that their teachers really know them and can personalize their learning.  Because of the emphasis on building strong relationships, students speak about a sense of family that they experience at HTHMA.

Professional Community

Collaboration is an expectation among HTHMA staff. HTH believes that the most essential element in a school that's connected to student learning is a positive interdependence of the adults in that school. The positive interdependence among adults serves as a model for students. As per the design principles, teachers also have a lot of autonomy, so teaching can look very different from classroom to classroom. Although the manifestation of the design principles looks different, a commonality is that the work is inherently authentic. HTH strives to create opportunities for teachers and students to do "work that matters."

Family Engagement

Parents can get involved in supporting the school through the HTHMA Parent's Association which maintains its own blog.

Each student has a faculty advisor. Faculty advisors visit each of their advisee’s homes and serve as a point of contact for the family as part of their role in supporting their advisee’s academic progress and helping advisees plan for their future.