Leonardo da Vinci High School
Leonardo da Vinci High School (DVHS) is located at 1400 E. 8th street in Davis, California (DVHS was located in Davis, California at 1602 Oak Avenue, which is part of the Davis Senior High School Campus from the fall of 2004 until fall 2009). DVHS has about 350 students, and is expected to grow to 400 students. This school is a member of the New Technology Foundation, an organization that promotes the integration of technology and high school education by establishing schools modeled after the Napa's New Technology High School, a project-based small learning community with a technology focus.
The main goal of DVHS's philosophy is to engender responsibility and competence in students, and to prepare them for the workplace. They use many unorthodox methods to achieve this goal. For example, there is no punishment system at DVHS; students are expected to do what is right. If there are problems, consequences such as a loss of privileges are instated on a case by case basis. There is no "detention room"; instead, the student must do odd jobs around the school to make up for their bad behavior, for example raking leaves in the quad or organizing the lost and found. Another feature is that passes are not required. The idea is to simulate a workplace environment. This is also why the school has chosen to work so much with computers; in a work environment such as the ones students are likely to encounter after graduating from school, they are likely to be using computers daily.
Leonardo da Vinci High School has been rated as the fifth best high school on the West Coast by . U.S. News & World Report gave DVHS a bronze medal in its national survey of high schools, in part based on DVHS's 98.7 percent standardized test proficiency rate.. Also, average SAT percentile for students at the school were roughly 80% in Math and Critical Reading, and 74% in Writing. The small class sizes and small overall community size, leading to increased individual attention, are usually cited as the reason for this excellent academic performance, as well as the reason for the 96% graduation rate. 
Partner Junior High School Program
Due to the success of the original program, DVHS now has a junior high partner program, the Da Vinci Junior High Academy, based on the structure of the original school, serving grades seven, eight and nine. This program began in Fall 2009. In the fall of 2011, the scope of the school moved up to allow for grade seven students to participate in the program.
Application and Selection
Students at Da Vinci go through an application process including an essay. Applications are evaluated to find students who will work better in a problem-solving based and group based environment than in a regular high school, and students who have something to contribute to the community and learning environment.
However, DVHS is not classified as a "magnet school" because there are no academic criteria for entering the school. The school has no technical programs, and does not focus on any academic areas, so DVHS is not classified as a "technical school" either, despite the high level of computer use.
While all students, regardless of financial status or academic proficiency, are encouraged to attend Da Vinci, there is somewhat of a selection process. Students who possess the qualities of being social, willing to work, Advanced in technology (or want to learn about technology), and Good Samaritans are more likely to be chosen.
Students sit in table groups, usually chosen by the teacher. They are allowed to listen to music during worktimes, and many often do. CD players and digital audio players are commonly used during class time at DVHS. This is intended to create a more relaxed work environment, and to allow students to feel more in control and exercise responsibility more often.
Da Vinci, formerly located in a ring of portables towards the back of the Davis Senior High School campus, moved to the vacant Valley Oak elementary campus in the 09-10 school year. Three buildings in the front of the campus have been allocated to a special education preschool, while (roughly) seven buildings of varying size were given to the High School. The campus has kept the murals made by former Valley Oak graduates, which often depict dragons—although in the Multi-Purpose Room, paintings of the elementary students themselves can be found.
Older students have criticized the layout as "lacking a community feel," due mainly to the courtyard formerly enjoyed as a place for the students to mingle between classes. The floor of the courtyard was painted blue, and it had several tables. All of the doors in the classrooms had been designed and painted by students, with whimsical colors and shapes on several of them.
When the school first started, one classroom was a lounge. But in the year of 06-07 the lounge was transferred into a classroom and the Senior class kept the couches and foosball table, while the vending machine went to another classroom. However, the food vending machines were removed due to lack of space, but drink vending machines still remained on campus, and did not move over to Valley Oak.
DVHS does not compete in any sports leagues except Ultimate Frisbee, which is growing in popularity as a sport among schools in the New Tech Foundation. The league consists of a team from Napa New Tech, the Penguins, and the Knights (unofficially the Fighting Lasagnas) from DVHS. The DVHS frisbee team has recently begun playing intermural games with UC Davis students. This team is co-ed and serves to foster community within students and teachers from schools.
Da Vinci students also participate is several non-school-sponsored sports at lunch or after school. DVHS students are also permitted to participate in sports through Davis Senior High School.
DVHS offers its students many opportunities. In the 2008-2009 year, Da Vinci offered a total of four community college courses for its students to take through Sacramento City College at a discounted tuition rate. There are a wide variety of clubs at Da Vinci, most of which were formed by the students themselves. They vary between the Rhythm Club, Meditation, Food of the Week, and many more. Unofficially, students are offered Leadership opportunities. When the students are put into groups to collaborate on a project, they are given the chance to step up and take a leadership role. There is also a leadership class available as an elective.
DVHS students are supplied with access to video cameras and other tools that they can use for educational or personal (appropriate) use. Many student-recorded videos are circulated throughout their school e-mail accounts. Examples of student generated multimedia include music, powerpoints, computer generated drawings and flash animations.
There are many courses offered at DVHS, and all of them are tailored to fit the school’s environment. All of these courses are problem oriented, and centered around presentations. These presentations are meant to simulate presentations in the workplace, and students are required to wear formal attire. The presentation projects are structured around having the students research to complete more open-ended assignments, as opposed to having students listen to lectures and complete narrowly defined projects.
All courses required for graduation are offered at DVHS. However, students who choose to can take classes which are not offered at Da Vinci. These are taken at Davis High School, which is about a mile away. About a third of the students bike, drive, or otherwise transport themselves to the DHS campus for these classes, leading to transportation concerns that, as of winter 2009, are unresolved.
As of spring 2007, DVHS has a partnership with Sacramento City College's extension program to offer community college courses for free to DVHS students.
Funding and Partnerships
The school is funded in part by a grant to the New Tech Foundation from the Gates Foundation. Bill Gates was interested in the program because he wanted a larger pool of technologically literate workers that required less training after employment. The New Tech Foundation runs schools around the country with a similar focus on problem-based learning.
Budget and layoff challenges
During both 2008 and 2009, massive budget cuts to the Davis Joint Unified School District put many of the da Vinci teachers jobs in jeopardy. However, due in part to fundraising from the Davis community, no da Vinci teachers were let go from the district.
In an attempt to save their teachers, the da Vinci students went before the Davis school board to protest that their teachers (many of whom have special training), were being laid off before other, less-skilled teachers. This student effort received attention from many regional media outlets such as KGO, KALW, KXJZ, and the Local News10 Television Channel.
Notes and references
- The Da Vinci Website
- Davis Joint Unified School District
- New Tech Foundation Website
- DaVinci High School on the Davis Wiki
- The DVHS Newspaper