The High School Decision: Student-Focused and Fiscally Responsible
The school board has chosen the option of creating one high school on the present site. Put simply, this choice maximizes our ability to deliver the quality instructional program to which we are committed, while bringing our students together under one roof.
It is a significant and much-needed investment in a high school facility that will serve our students and our community well into the future.
We are fortunate to have had extensive public involvement, beginning with the Districtwide Master Plan in 1999, through community dialogues, hearings, discussions with community partners, such as the borough, the Centre Region Council of Governments, the Parks and Recreation department, as well as information provided through many public board meetings and work sessions.
We deeply appreciate the work of the district's Citizens Advisory Committee, as well as the ongoing work of the faculty and staff in making our new high school the best it can be.
This project reflects three key priorities:
Maintaining the excellent instructional program for all students.
Our current high school provides every student with the opportunity for a full spectrum of basic, advanced and specialized courses in all academic and elective areas, and 14 fully developed vocational programs. Every student has a path to develop individual interests, talents and skills leading to further schooling and/or employment.
Our students perform well according to accepted measures of achievement. These consistent results have been recognized by state and national entities that assess the quality of schools.
During our strategic planning process in 2001, the curriculum was consistently regarded as a major strength. We believe it is important to maintain these opportunities for all students, and that is exactly what the current project does.
Engaging every one of our high school students in their school.
Students need to belong -- not just most students, but every student. Our students have indicated that they want to know their classmates better and have more opportunities for interaction with their teachers. They want to be connected to their school.
We want that, too. Our faculty and administrators, along with students and parents, have been working for the past two years on a creative way to make this happen called the Small Schools Initiative.
Beginning in 2007-08, every student will have a faculty mentor and will participate in a "small school." The current six small schools are Natural Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences, Health and Human Development, Arts, Business and Communication, and Career and Technical Education.
Students will still have the full range of curriculum choices for their regular academic program, but they will have the additional advantage of being part of an interest-based group meeting several times a month for study, exploration and activities throughout their high school years.
Our high school is a large school, but it need not be impersonal.
Managing costs to the community.
In considering the variety of options during the decision-making process, the board kept the complete financial picture of the district and the community firmly in view. The current project is less costly, by $25 million to $35 million, than a new building on a new site.
It is also less costly than financing and operating two separate high schools with identical instructional programs and double athletic and extracurricular activities. It goes beyond minimal renovations of the two buildings as they stand, thus providing substantial improvement.
In addition, our community faces the significant costs of renovating at least five more elementary schools during the coming decade. This decision will result in a fine high school but considers additional facilities costs ahead.
This column by the Board of School Directors was published on April 16, 2006 in the Centre Daily Times.