Hightower Academy Revisited | Print |
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Several years ago, we had the pleasure of talking with Ted Irving at Hightower Academy in Texas. 

Since that time, we have been following this program through all the success they have had.  We felt that it was time to revisit this excellent progam and share the progress with you. You can see our original article by clicking here.

SVN:  Ted, tell us about your background and how you decided to start teaching TV/Video production?

Ted:  I graduated from the Sam Houston State University Dan Rather School of Communications in 1992 and got my first job as a cable grip for John Crow Productions in Houston, Texas. I basically provided over/under of cables, shotgun mic ball following and network truck cleanup for Houston Rockets games. I later became a camera operator for the WWE with John Crowe as well as camera operator for concerts such as Martin Lawrence Live. My full-time job came a few months later with ABC KTRK 13 in Houston as a playback/news editor. After working there a year I was approached by the Jack Yates School of Communications in the Houston Independent School District so, I became a media teacher and worked for ABC on a part-time basis.

SVN:  How did you obtain initial funding for your program? How do you fund the class now?

Ted:  Funding for the Hightower Digital Media Academy was already in place when I was hired. The funding is from federal Perkins grants.

SVN:  Did you have equipment available?

Ted:  We have a ton of gear that makes professionals jealous. Our inventory consists of one steadicam, two Matthews doorway dollies, one 9ft. jib with confidence monitor, an extra large survival kit with black flags, silks and cookies, 5 Canon Rebel T2i HD DSLR camera (12th grade), two Sony NEX-VG10 hybrid DSLR cameras (12th Practicum), 10 Canon Vixia HF200 (9th grade), 9 Sony PD170 tape based cameras (11th grade) and three Sony DSR 300A full-size ENG cameras (11th grade). For music video production our sophomores use Sony Z1U HDV cameras and we have two of those.

That is not the end of the list however as our inventory also includes a studio with green screen and a Panasonic pro HD 52 inch Flat screen, and control room with switcher. The second studio, which has been a classroom for over 10 years will be used beginning next year as a talk show set. Both have a professional grid for mounting lights.

Our editing facilities consist of one room for juniors and seniors that has eight Mac Pro Quad Core towers running Avid Media Composer 3.0, Final Cut Studio 2, Adobe CS4 and quite a few third party plug-ins such as magic bullet and DV garage. All of the bays are using Sony HDV external tape decks, Sony DSR-11 VTR decks and then we use USB card readers for HD footage shot on our tapeless cameras. And we also have three BetaSP decks to dub content to BetaSP tape for the local TV stations. For our 9th and 10th grade we provide fifteen new iMac computers running the CS4 and Final Cut Studio 2 suites. Finally, students have access to C-Stands, two Arri lighting kits and 7 Lowel kits, sand bags, stingers, bags of C-47’s, a portable multi-camera production cart with a Panasonic WJ-MX50 switcher. For the school we also operate and own an Infocaster system that allows us to operate a 24 hour bulletin board complete with graphics, animation and video. At the front of the school we also operate a wall mounted flat screen that is connected to a computer with a second install of the Infocaster software to run bulletin messages for tours, guests and parents. Every student production can be duplicated using our Bravo II duplicators as well.

SVN:  How many kids are in the TV/Video Production classes?  How is it broken down?  Is it a multi-year program?

Ted: We operate an academy program. Our program along with the Engineering, Medical & Digital Graphics academy were founded in 1998 and were the first for our district. The state of Texas has introduced the Achieve Texas program (www.achievetexas.org) which is requiring every high school student to graduate with not just a diploma but a license or certification in a trade. Our academy is a four year program that 8th graders apply for. If they get accepted the take one course their freshman year that is a collage of everything offered. At the end of their freshman year they can choose one of two pathways; 1) The Digital Filmmaking & Broadcast Journalism path or, 2) the 3D Animation and Digital Graphics pathway. 10th through 12th grade requires two or more academy courses per year as a sequence. They graduate with the academy medal at the end of their senior year, a portfolio, an Amazon.com CreateSpace account to sell their content and a resume DVD for colleges and potential employers.

SVN:  Can you tell us a little more about the sessions:  How long are the classes? How many students? What types of projects?

Ted:  Classes are 90 minutes. We are on a block schedule. Our program has 250 students but our Superintendent has a goal for all academies to reach a goal of 400 students. The type of projects are students work on are original music videos, short films, live newscasts, live-to-tape newscasts, public service announcements, DVD athlete highlight reels, etc.

SVN:  How many kids to do the morning news broadcast?  Do you also do a weekly broadcast? Special events coverage?

Ted:  We produce a weely newscast. Every Friday. With a reduction in staff it is difficult to return to the glory days of a daily, live newscast at the level we used to produce it. We don’t engage in any special events coverage such as sporting events. However, our students do spot coverage of events for the newscast. We have reporter/photographer teams that engage in ENG for the show and for posting to SchoolTube.

SVN:  Do your students capture other school events? Sports? Assemblies? Board meetings? Musical Performances?

Ted:  Yes. We no longer cover board meetings due to staffing, but all on-campus events.

SVN:  What jobs do the kids do?  Do the kids rotate through on-air talent and crew positions or are they “hired” for a specific task?

Ted:  For the sophomore and senior level, which focuses on filmmaking, student positions consist of a director, producer, cinematographer, 1st and 2nd camera assistant, location scout, boom operator, script writer, storyboard artist, best boy, best girl and catering. The 11th grade ENG class has anchors, reporters, photographer, editors, Infocast operator, audio, technical director, CG, playback and HD screen playback.

SVN:  Do students audition for on-air positions?

Ted:  We make all students rotate every nine-week period.

SVN:  Do they write the content?
Ted:  Yes. Students must write their own scripts under instructor supervision and for homework.

SVN:  How long does the show run?  

Ted: We are only given a ten minute block per week.

SVN:  Do you submit programming to independent contest such as those sponsored by StudicaSkills and SchoolTube TV?

Ted:  We post mostly to SchoolTube and our website www.hhsacademy.com

SVN:  Can your broadcast be viewed outside the school? District-wide?  Local cable access?  On your school/district web-site?

Ted:  We can only broadcast through our closed-circuit system in the school. However, the reason we purchased the Infoscaster, which is really cable TV scheduling software with singage, is to prepare for operating a channel one day. We’ve tried for over 8 years to accomplish that. It is hard but we are still trying to work with our local Comcast to acquire an on-demand channel.

SVN:  Where do you post programming?  YouTube?  Vimeo? SchoolTube?  SVN-TV? Other?

Ted:  Schooltube.

SVN:  Have any quick start tips! 

Ted:  Get a low cost sub 1000 HD/solid state camera, basic tripod, simple Radio Shack microphone and lavalier/lapell, a couple of SDHC or SDXC cards and you are ready. That’s very low end of course. As you grow look for green screen curtains, basic Lowel light kits, and a faster computer with a lot of RAM. Mac or PC.


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