June 2010

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Principal Evan Glazer congratulates a winning student at the 2008 Thomas Jefferson High School Science Fair. Special photo

Evan Glazer went to college to become a physicist. Or so he thought. He soon discovered an enthusiasm for helping people learn that led him to pursue a career in teaching.

Now, a decade later, Glazer (PhD ’03) is still helping people learn, but these days it’s as principal of the top ranked high school in the nation.

For the past three years, Glazer’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the best in the nation in terms of education provided and student test scores from among more than 21,000 American public high schools.

Glazer, who earned his doctorate in instructional technology from the College of Education, attributes his school’s success to its values of critical inquiry and research, problem solving, intellectual curiosity and social responsibility.

“None of our students have the same passion, but having a passion is widely accepted and embraced,” Glazer says.

A public school, Thomas Jefferson receives about $13,000 per student from the state and raises an additional $1 million dollars each year, most of which is used to purchase research equipment.

The school’s curriculum is designed to challenge students, Glazer says. Course offerings that include DNA science, neurology and quantum physics would seem to be more than enough to accomplish that goal.

But in addition students and faculty are exploring social responsibility through projects of their own design, ranging from getting school supplies for students with cerebral palsy in Shanghai to persuading their classmates to use handkerchiefs to reduce paper waste.

The students at Thomas Jefferson are driven, balancing a full academic load in addition to participating in more than 75 different activities each week.  Each student is required to complete a senior-year science and technology project in a specialized field, such as neuroscience or analytical chemistry.

“I think the fundamental role in a successful curriculum is to make sure the courses and experiences are engaging, challenging and nurture students’ curiosity to want to learn more,” he says.

Inspired by his mother, who volunteered in public schools while working two jobs, Glazer developed an appreciation for service as well as a passion for learning. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s in mathematics education from the University of Illinois, and then taught for five years in a suburban Illinois high school before coming to UGA.

“While completing my Ph.D., I pursued a variety of options and through the interview process, I fell in love with idea of serving as a leader of a high school that supports student research in science and technology,” says Glazer. “I think I missed being in a high school, so this opportunity gave me the best of both worlds—being with adolescents and being immersed in a culture of research.”

—Genevieve di Leonardo is a master’s degree student in advertising.