Paul Duke STEM High School

Learn Together. Lead Tomorrow.

Meet the Principal

  • Principal Dr. Wetherington

    Dr. Jonathon Wetherington

    As a passionate educator, I am extremely honored and excited to lead Paul Duke STEM High School.  The vision of Gwinnett County Public Schools is to become a system of world-class schools where students acquire the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and careers.  As we continue to transform teaching and learning in support of this vision in all of our schools, we are committed to providing students with engaging and differentiated learning environments. Paul Duke STEM High School was created to provide a non-traditional, STEM-themed high school choice for the Norcross cluster. Joining the Norcross cluster, as well as the Norcross and Peachtree Corners communities, inspires me to continue the tradition of excellence that has embodied these communities as we launch in August 2018.

    Paul Duke STEM High School has been described as “a small school full of big ideas!” I believe this is an excellent summary of our vision. While there are a growing number of STEM schools in the region, Paul Duke STEM High School will offer its students a STEM-themed learning experience unlike any other that emphasizes both technology and the application of knowledge to prepare students for a high-tech and high-skilled future. Our technology-infused STEM curriculum has been developed with students and their future in mind and emphasizes students learning with and through technology.

    The “T” is bigger in our name because it’s a big deal at our school.  Technology is a large part of our students’ world and it will impact every career opportunity in their future from self-driving cars to robotics to managing our natural resources. Therefore, our goal is to empower our students’ learning in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics through the effective use of Technology.  While we have a technology-infused STEM approach, the big “T” in our name also refers to our school environment that will emphasize Talent, Trust, Thinking, Tinkering, Teamwork, as well as Technology.  These six words describe and inspire the culture that we will create for our students.

    As we embark on this incredible journey, I hope you will join with us because I believe that the vision for Paul Duke STEM High School is one that many students, parents, and community members are looking for.  Please feel free to contact me with any ideas you may have on how we support the students in our community.

    Let’s build a foundation that allows innovation for excellence!

    Principal's Blog - The Monday STEMO

Principal's Blog - "The Monday STEMO"

  • Heart and Hope

    Posted by Jonathon Wetherington on 12/15/2019 4:00:00 PM

    Happy Monday,

    I hope everyone had a great weekend.  When I left teaching at the college level in 2007, I was excited about working in a high school, and 12 years later, nothing has changed. Yet, I still enjoy the launch of a new semester, and the closure that comes 18 weeks later.  I love to watch students learn and teachers teach, which is like poetry coming alive. In a high school, every day brings a new set of challenges and opportunities. Some of which you have foreseen and others which come right out of left field. Frequently, change is a constant in our world, but most of the time, these changes fail to deliver on the promise that they offered.  Since so many things in education seem to never change or seem too difficult to change, such as students waiting until the last minute to apply themselves, we lose heart and hope.  

    Friday was a day in which I was reminded that change is difficult, and sometimes, yes sometimes, it fails to yield quick results.  Last Thursday and Friday were two days that my heart and hope took a beating because despite several pieces of positive data over the last few weeks, we were reminded that opening a school is hard work. In spite of how we feel about the Awards, the Performance Based Awards are an amazing opportunity for teachers at all schools and for teachers at Paul Duke STEM.  I left post-secondary education because the impact that K-12 education offers is so much greater, and the opportunities to impact students are so much larger. The truth is that the true promise of K-12 education lies in the power and effectiveness of its teachers, and I am thrilled to be in a school district that is willing to reward K-12 teachers and pilot innovative ideas such as digital learning and STEM for all students. 

    The Roman god Janus had two sets of eyes—one pair focusing on what lay behind, the other on what lay ahead. As we develop and implement our vision of excellence as an innovative STEM school, we, too, will need to focus on both what has worked in the past and the innovative opportunities our school offers. Therefore, as we close out this semester, I wanted you all to know how excited I am about our future. I am truly excited to see how our students do on their finals. I am excited about our first graduating class and graduation. I am excited about our 3rd consecutive recruiting class of more than 310 students from Summerour and Pinckneyville, and I am excited to support the amazing teachers here. 

    Here’s to an exciting end of the semester!

    Jonathon

    “To rid yourself of old patterns, focus all your energy not on struggling with the old, but on building the new.” 

    - “Way of the Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Lives” by Dan Milleman

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  • CyberMonday should be a National Holiday

    Posted by Jonathon Wetherington on 12/1/2019 8:00:00 PM

    So, I feel like CyberMonday should be a national holiday! Sadly, it is not, and we are all getting back into the flow again instead of debating whether or not we need that really cool gadget from Amazon. On the bright side, I hope you had an amazing Thanksgiving Break, and you were able to make progress towards your life goals. After binge watching football and Jack Ryan, I feel whole!

    Speaking of whole, we only have three whole weeks left in the semester.  The next three weeks are going to fly by, and they are going to be great! I hope you never lose sight of how important teachers, parents, and family members are to our students. We all make a huge difference in the lives of our students, and that is a worthy goal! Over the break, I read a blog that tackled the idea of a worthy goal and how we may choose to pursue it (See the blog in blue below).

    The uncomfortable combination of effort and acceptance

    We have the opportunity to expend the maximum effort on behalf of a worthy goal. And we also have the choice to mindfully accept whatever happens next. Acceptance is a choice in the service of our happiness and the ability to try again tomorrow.

    When we detach our emotional state from the results of our effort, we maximize the chances that our effort will be focused and effective. We’re not trying to control the outcome, simply putting our best effort into creating the conditions that lead to the desired outcome.

    The opportunity is:

    • to go all in, and
    • to be okay with what happens after that.

    The next three weeks offer us the opportunity to do just that….go all in and be okay with the results. Do not be afraid to go all in or give your max to our students because you worry what might not happen. Give it all you got and accept what happens next -- you might be surprised. 

    Thank you for trailblazing with us!

    Jonathon 

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  • Killer Mondays!

    Posted by Jonathon Wetherington on 11/17/2019 1:00:00 AM

    Last Monday was a killer Monday for me.  I woke up with a severe pain in my foot (plantar fasciitis), and my car broken down on the way to work (alternator).  I could have walked to work from where my car broke down, but my foot hurt so bad I could not walk. Once I got to work, everything seemed off and felt wrong.  Our admin meeting started late, and I was rushing to get everything together. Thankfully, ILT meeting was okay, and only one teacher noticed that I brought the wrong handout with me.   Alas, the entire day was just frustrating, expensive, and exhausting. I ended up leaving work after ILT at 3 PM, which I never do, to go and get my car that was towed to the repair shop we use.  Since I was leaving work early, I decided to call and see if my doc could do anything for the pain in my foot. I ended up being able to collect my car, burn through our emergency fund, deal with some other stuff, AND get a cortisone shot for my foot because I left work “early” for me. 

    The next day, I woke up feeling so much better, and I had a great Tuesday.  My foot was better, my attitude was better, and I was in a completely better mental and emotional space.  This reminded me of two things: 1. Mondays happen to all of us, and 2. Sometimes the best thing to do is to retreat and regroup.  My Monday experience left me reeling, and I could have tried to double-down on my ”work” issues and power through. However, I ended up taking time to take care of my personal issues and get myself back on track.  The investment into myself was well worth it, and it reminded me that we all have to take care of ourselves in order to be our best selves and help others.  

    My experience reminded me of the pre-flight safety spiel that is standard on every flight about putting your oxygen mask on first in the event of cabin pressure dropping. But have you ever wondered why flight attendants are so careful to hammer this information into our brain (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUfF2MTnqAw&feature=youtu.be )?

    It is because you are not able to help anyone if you die either literally or figuratively. Therefore, I hope you find some time this week to take care of yourself and invest into yourself because I am thankful for our entire your community. 

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  • Different does better!

    Posted by Jonathon Wetherington on 10/12/2019 5:00:00 PM

    Congratulations on a great first half of the semester!  As we move forward into the second half, I am excited about what the rest of this semester holds.  My excitement is not born from perfection or a lack of adversity. My excitement is BECAUSE of the adversity, the challenges, and the difficulty.  As Albert Einstein said, “Out of clutter find simplicity. From discord find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

    Today’s learning experiences are tomorrow’s leadership opportunities.  Our school was not created to simply do school the same way as schools all over Gwinnett or the state do school.  We were created to make STEM accessible to all students and provide a different experience for our students, which means we are more than great test scores. Being different is in the DNA of a Trailblazer.  We see different as better, but different is not better unless different does better.  Now is the time for us to continue to do better for ourselves and our community. So, what does doing better mean?

    Doing Better means:

    • It is time to help our students connect with the relevancy in their learning. 
    • It is time to reteach AKS for students that need it in order to do better. 
    • It is time to connect students’ learning with service projects. 
    • It is time to have your club or team engage with Gwinnett’s Great Days of Service or raise money for United Way. 
    • It is time to continue to focus on literacy, problem solving, and technology. 
    • It is time to build new partnerships and recruit more students. 

    Different is only better if different does better, so let’s do better together!

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  • Excellence or Mediocrity - The Choice is Simple

    Posted by Jonathon Wetherington on 9/8/2019 6:30:00 AM

    One of my favorite quotes is also one that is a bit unnerving. It is a quote from Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't” and it appears below. 

    “Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don't have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don't have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.” - Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't

    The quote states plainly that we fail to reach greatness because we are satisfied with good enough or fine or okay.  This satisfaction with “good” is not evil or wrong, but it is an open acceptance of mediocrity. Personally, I am okay with some mediocrity in my life, and most people actually are as well.  I am okay with good or mediocre weather, commute times, paper clips, and copy paper quality. In the case of each of these items, it is acceptable to me to trade excellence or perfection for a normal quality experience because of the other decisions or constraints in my life.  However, I am not okay with our students’ learning experience just being good. I expect our teaching and learning to be full of greatness that includes meaningful, engaging, and relevant learning experiences. Experiences that transform the student experience and prepare our students for an innovative and creative future. This pursuit of greatness is why we engage in digital and project based learning, and it is the reason that Paul Duke STEM was created. It is why we embrace a vision of excellence at Paul Duke STEM, and it is why we are working constantly to improve our instructional practices. Most of all, this dissatisfaction with good enough is makes me proud to be principal of our school and inspires me to be my best for the faculty at staff at Paul Duke STEM. Thank you for making the leap to greatness and refusing to accept mediocrity.  

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  • Moon Shot - Credit to Friday Forward

    Posted by Jonathon Wetherington on 8/4/2019 6:00:00 AM

    For this week's Blog, I am going to post a blog from Robert Glazer's Friday Forward.  In his blog on July 25th, Robert Glazer captured a collection of thoughts so near and dear to my heart that I thought I was reading my own mind. In addition, I could not say it this well, so I offer his post below as an encouraging reminder at the beginning of this school year. Enjoy! I know I did. 

    https://www.fridayfwd.com/moon-shot/

    In his acclaimed book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim Collins coined the term BHAG, which stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal.

    In studying companies with a remarkable, decades-long track record of success and high-performance, Collins found that each had a consistent presence of a BHAG. In each of these organizations, their BHAG served as a North Star for employees and changed the very nature of their business.

    Collins wrote:

    “A BHAG engages people – it reaches out and grabs them in the gut.  It is tangible, energizing, highly focused.  People “get it” right away; it takes little or no explanation.”  

    From a historical perspective, one of the greatest examples of a BHAG is President John F. Kennedy’s declaration in 1962 that the United States would put a man on the surface of the moon before the end of the decade. At the time, this goal seemed unfathomable to most.

    This week marked the 50th anniversary of that BHAG coming to fruition: the spaceflight Apollo 11 landing humans on the Moon on July 20, 1969 and allowing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to be the first humans to step foot on another planetary body. The third astronaut, Michael Collins, remained in the command module to ensure their safety.

    The media coverage commemorating this incredible event has provided insight into the extensive planning, financial commitment, vision and teamwork that was required to make this extraordinary achievement possible. It’s also shed light on three important takeaways that any organization can learn from.

    1.Where There Is A Will, There Is A Way

    One fact that I’m personally astounded by is that the processing power of an iPhone has 100,000 times more processing power than the computer onboard the Apollo 11. To put this in context, this means that an iPhone today could handle 120 million moon missions at once. So, clearly, it’s not always about having the best technology, or the right tools or the smartest people; it’s about having the individual and collective will.

    2. Specific & Measurable Goals

    BHAGs are a combination of boldness and specificity. Had Kennedy said that the U.S. should “enhance its space capabilities,” by the end of the decade, it is very unlikely that humans would have landed on the moon. Similar to the “painted picture” exercise I wrote about in a recent Friday Forward and our own Vivid Vision creation experience at Acceleration Partners, the more inspiring and time-sensitive something is, the more likely others will rally together toward achieving it.

    3. Dream Team 

    To achieve those first lunar footsteps, everyone needed to understand that they were part of one team with one goal, regardless of their expertise or success in the marketplace.

    For example, the hundreds of private vendors who were awarded the contracts to handle key elements of the Apollo 11 technology were competitors outside of the program. However, inside the program, they were part of one team. This was a remarkable example of industry competitors coming together to create an all-star team for a bigger purpose.

    What was also apparent from the Apollo 11 anniversary media coverage is that experts from all over the world– from mathematicians, engineers, scientists, mechanics, technicians, pilots and thousands of others who worked tirelessly behind the scenes– all set aside their egos in pursuit of that common goal.

    As we celebrate the anniversary of one of the greatest BHAGs in history, it’s worth taking a few minutes to think about our own personal and professional ambitions and what we could accomplish with the right mindset, a clear endpoint and true team effort. The Apollo 11 program proves that, when we don’t allow ourselves or our teams to put personal or team-centered needs above the needs of the organization as a whole, we can accomplish amazing feats.

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  • I choose to go to the moon

    Posted by Jonathon Wetherington on 7/20/2019 6:00:00 PM

    50 years ago today, NASA’s Apollo 11 mission changed our world and ideas of what is possible by successfully landing humans on the surface of the moon⁠—and bringing them home safely⁠—for the first time in history.  This amazing human accomplishment began with the vision and belief that we could go to the moon.  A vision that President John F. Kennedy captured in the famous space linked here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZyRbnpGyzQ

    At Paul Duke STEM, the faculty and staff share the same desire to blaze brave new trails in our own industry: education.  We believe in the power of STEM education for all students, and we seek to open new opportunities for our students and community.  As we demonstrated in our first year, innovative ideas can lead to exceptional results.  Next year, we will build upon these successes and continue to expand the options and opportunities for all students.  in the immortal words of President Kennedy, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too." 

    The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission symbolizes how anything is possible. We are all explorers who can do our part to expand knowledge and be a part of the next great mission.  We hope you will join us!

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  • Finish Strong!

    Posted by Jonathon Wetherington on 5/13/2019 8:45:00 PM

    The end of the school year is here!  The final stages of a fantastic and wonderful journey is finally here.  I am so proud of all we have accomplished this year: launching our Fine Arts programs, project-based teaching and learning, building a strong community and mindset, and creating STEM programs that open doors for students.  However, at the end of this year lies something equally amazing as all the great accomplishments thus far.  At the end of this year, we begin every other year to come....How cool is that? For this year is not just coming to an end, but it is also giving birth to a new beginning.  We often summarize our work this year in the idea of “Moonshot Thinking.” As President John F. Kennedy, Jr. said, "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too"

    As we wind down the year and reflect on this year and all we have accomplished, I hope you will also take a moment and look forward. I hope you look forward to the next stage of your journey.  I hope you look forward with renewed energy and optimism because we are building something special here. We are building a school that helps all students dream and achieve. I hope you look forward to the challenges that the next eight days bring because these challenges bring us one step closer to our goal and to our moon! Most of all I hope you look forward, and not backwards, to all the opportunity and greatness that lies ahead.  As we continue to learn together and lead tomorrow, it is tempting to get tripped up on the challenges of today, so I encourage you to look forward and finish strong.

     

    Finish Strong

     

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  • Learning Together. Leading Tomorrow.

    Posted by Jonathon Wetherington on 4/7/2019 4:00:00 PM

    Over the last six months, the students, faculty, and staff of Paul Duke STEM High School have successful blazed new trails together.  Together, we launched the first school of its kind, a cluster-based theme school focused on STEM with an emphasis on technology, and in our inaugural year, we experienced challenges and celebrated successful milestones.  The sense of community and pride that has developed is inspiring and uplifting for all those involved. We have worked together to build the foundation of a truly great school, and we are just getting started.

     

    As we look back over the last few months, our teachers and staff have used technology and project-based learning to bring our vision to life each and everyday.  Each week on Fridays, we learn more and more about using blended learning, flexible learning, and digital learning to insure all students learn and succeed. As the year has gone on, our partners have worked with us to set our course and push our thinking, so that all students are ready for opportunities after high school.  Due to the commitment of both our faculty and community partners, students were able to compete in academic competitions, develop their leadership capacity, and excel academically. We have learned a great deal together, which will help us lead tomorrow!

     

    With six weeks left in the school year, we still have much to learn.  However, our learning does not occur in isolation. We have established a unique and supportive community that promotes and encourages learning for both students and adults.  This community of learning is our most unique and special characteristic, and it will serve us well as we look to the future. One day, I know that we will all look back on this year with great pride for what we accomplished and the future that we unlocked together.  As Trailblazers, we pursued a “moon shot” vision because we believed that our students deserved a unique experience that prepared them for their future….a future that is worth the challenges and the work. As President John F. Kennedy said in his moon shot speech at Rice University, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

     

    At Paul Duke STEM, we chose to chase our own big, hairy, audacious goal because it is hard and because this goal will serve to lead the future for our students and countless others.  As principal, I am honored to be a part of a school that learns together, so we can lead tomorrow!

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  • Managing our Most Valuable Resource - Time

    Posted by Dr. Jonathon Wetherington on 2/17/2019 5:00:00 PM

    As I sit down on a Sunday afternoon to prepare for the week ahead like so many teachers and administrators around the country and world, I find myself reflecting on the time ahead of us in the school year (12 weeks as of today) and the time gone by.  Just like other educators, I wonder if we have used time in the best way possible and how we might be able to use the next few days and weeks ahead to help our students learn and grow. I wonder how I can help teachers and students use time in better and different ways that lead to high levels of student achievement.  While this reflection on time and how it is used is a source of angst for many educators, it is a source of hope for me, and time is a source of hope for Paul Duke STEM High School!

     

    This weekend, I read this article (“Time Is an Essential Teacher Resource, So How Can Schools Be More Creative With It?” in MindShift, February 2019, https://bit.ly/2C9TIXJ) and the quote below struck me.

    “Time is one of the most powerful levers for change in a school. Everything about how a school runs, from where staff go, to when they have breaks and collaborative time, to what classes students can take, is based on how leaders schedule the limited time within a school day, week, and year.” - Katrina Schwartz in “Time Is an Essential Teacher Resource, So How Can Schools Be More Creative With It?” in MindShift, February 2019, https://bit.ly/2C9TIXJ

     

    This article and quote served as a reminder of how important time is for both teachers and students, and how schools are responsible for how we schedule and use that time. At Paul Duke STEM, we leverage a very unique schedule to maximize time spent learning in the classroom, and nowhere is that more evident than on our Fridays.  On our Flexible Learning Fridays, we have the opportunity to allow our students to truly focus on their learning in personalized ways. We provide digital lessons, face-to-face tutoring, hands-on experiences and so much more. As I reflect back upon the school year, I am excited about what we have accomplished, and I am hopeful about what lies ahead, especially on Fridays.  With the flexibility our Flexible Learning Fridays provide, we can take our students to new heights, and it’s it about TIME for that!

     

    Thanks for #TrailblazingTogether!

    Dr. Wetherington

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