With Larry Rosenstock, the WISE Award Rewards a Counter-Conventional Method

Larry Rosenstock, Director of High Tech High, San Diego, November 2019.
Larry Rosenstock, Director of High Tech High, San Diego, November 2019. Ariana Drehsler for Le Monde

At the entrance, a large portrait of Barack Obama. "It's the students who painted it," explains Larry Rosenstock. The school looks like a hangar or a start-up. The metal beams are stripped. The ceiling opens on the sky. "It's the principle: we want height and light," adds his director. As for the apparent structure, it has the virtue, according to him, of "reveal mathematical calculations » that were necessary for the construction from the property on a former US Navy Training Center, just steps from San Diego Airport (California).

High Tech High (HTH), the school that Larry Rosenstock founded in September 2000 on this piece of peninsula called Point Loma, is unconventional even in its architecture. Few chairs in classes, no lecture, but multidisciplinary projects, necessarily translated into objects: paintings, sculptures, collages and gears exposed on the walls. More than a school, this is a workshop that has just received the prestigious World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) award.

Larry Rosenstock is a pioneer of education through design. Art is in the corridors; jazz in the washroom (another student initiative) and classes, in the area where passing aircraft noise does not reach 40 decibels. No metal detectors at the entrance, unlike many American schools. No visitor monitoring. Students wander calmly, even at lunch time. "The more freedom we give, the more children behave responsibly" says Larry Rosenstock. The rate of chronic absenteeism for students from disadvantaged backgrounds is 11.4% on average in the United States. At HTH, which gives great importance to social mix, it has been reduced to 5%.

Larry Rosenstock's office can be visited as a photo gallery. His references: Martin Luther King, Albert Einstein. His meetings: Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates. The project he prefers, among the hundreds made by students in twenty years: a miniature piano that shows each step – and the laws of physics – that lead to the production of a sound. At 71, Larry Rosenstock does not hold up. He rummages through the files, constantly looking for something: the price of innovation received in 1992 at Harvard for having "Redefined professional education". The last "year book", the year-end book attesting to the success of students. 97% of the final year students are admitted to the university, against 69% on national average. Each year, some of them manage to integrate the most prestigious establishments: Stanford, Yale …


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