Tacoma’s third small, themed high school, called IDEA, will open in September.
IDEA stands for Industrial Design, Engineering and Art. It’s an educational sibling of SOTA, Tacoma’s School of the Arts, and SAMI, the Science and Math Institute, and was launched by some of the same educators who helped build those schools.
IDEA principal Zach Varnell is a SOTA faculty veteran. He taught audio recording and songwriting there for 10 years before leaving to work as head of curriculum for an online education company three years ago.
But Jon Ketler, founder of SOTA, SAMI and IDEA, persuaded Varnell to return to Tacoma and get IDEA off the ground.
IDEA, housed in the old Park Avenue school building in South Tacoma, will open the year with an estimated 125 freshmen. More grade levels will be added in subsequent years, with a final goal of 500 to 550 students.
Just as at SOTA and SAMI, students from throughout the city apply and are chosen by lottery to attend IDEA. Students from each of Tacoma’s middle schools get a chance at a proportion of the seats, based on the size of their middle school’s eighth grade enrollment.
Also like SOTA and SAMI, students report for an overnight camp that serves as a community-building exercise before the first day of school. Most IDEA students also attended a “First Look” day over the summer, designed to help them transition successfully into high school.
“Our curriculum is designed around project-based education,” Varnell said.
Teachers are grouped into four-person teams, each with expertise in one of four areas: humanities, math, science or the arts.
IDEA has invited professionals from the business world — architects, builders, mechanical or computer engineers, graphic designers, artists and others from the community — to become part of the school. In exchange for teaching IDEA students about their profession, they can earn work space in the building.