Technical Education

Justin Widenham makes a weld while putting some finishing touches on a trailer-mounted barbecue smoker designed and fabricated by students recently at Pathways Innovation Center in Casper.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

High school and district officials unveiled their plan Monday for the future of the enrollment-dogged Pathways Innovation Center, including that problem-based learning will continue to exist at the facility, albeit to a lesser degree.

“Are there going to be 5 million kids out there? No,” Kelly Walsh Principal Brad Diller told school board members. “But the numbers I think will be up.”

Pathways will host Kelly Walsh students in the morning and Natrona County students in the afternoon, with Roosevelt students attending during both blocks, officials said. The facility will offer a number of classes, many unique to it but some that are also offered at the other high schools. Several classes will offer certification opportunities to students. Pathways will also offer two problem-based courses, which are two separate classes packaged together.

If a student takes courses at Pathways in the fall, he or she will also be there in the spring, high school officials told the board.

The facility can hold 500 students in the morning and the same amount in the afternoon, officials have said. Enrollment has been significantly beneath that to this point.

In October, the principals of the Natrona County School District’s four high schools, plus the highest-ranking official at Pathways, announced that the building — which opened last fall after a $25 million construction — would be moving away from its academy- and project-based learning curriculum. They pointed to low enrollment numbers and substandard academic results as reasons.

At the time, it was unclear what Pathways would become. The facility was already on its second major revamp, after officials decided last spring that the all-day academy approach wasn’t working. Pathways moved to offering academies in the mornings and a more free-form structure in the afternoon for the current school year.

But that, too, failed to attract enough students. District data showed that two-thirds of high schoolers were unfamiliar with Pathways’ offerings.

So high school leaders, having spoken with the Pathways staff in the recent weeks, have arrived at this plan. They say they also intend on making their own staffs — particularly counselors — more aware of Pathways.

Generally, the school board expressed enthusiasm and hope for the new plan. But chairman Kevin Christopherson still had questions.

“So what do we do if we get partway through this process and nobody’s going to PIC?” he asked. “No plan B, or?”

“This is plan B,” replied board member Dave Applegate.

“Plan D by now,” Christopherson said.

Ron Eastes, the assistant principal who is the on-site leader at Pathways, said that “numbers dictate that those kids have to go somewhere.” He was referring to significant overcrowding at the two main high schools, particularly Kelly Walsh.

The five high school officials said they were hopeful this strategy would bring more students to Pathways.

“I want a win. And the win is to get enrollment up,” Diller said. “When it’s done, I want to say, ‘It worked.’”

Follow education reporter Seth Klamann on Twitter @SethKlamann

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Education and Health Reporter

Seth Klamann joined the Star-Tribune in 2016 and covers education and health. A 2015 graduate of the University of Missouri and proud Kansas City native, Seth worked for newspapers in Milwaukee and Omaha before coming to Casper.

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