Principals from Casper’s three high schools and the newly appointed leader of the Pathways Innovation Center have presented their plan to boost the facility’s dragging enrollment.
The officials, who form the district’s high school leadership team, will all play a part in leading Pathways forward as it attempts to fill its 1,000-capacity building. Currently, officials said, 227 students are enrolled to attend the school in the mornings, and the district is employing a new leadership structure that brings other high school officials into direct roles overseeing PIC.
That itself is a change, Roosevelt Principal Shawna Trujillo said. In the school year that just ended, which was Pathways’ first, the facility’s four academies were offered all day. Starting next year, though, the academies will be offered in the mornings and individual classes, rather than courses packaged together as they currently are, will be available to students in the afternoon.
That will allow Kelly Walsh, Natrona County and Roosevelt high school students to attend one class, like welding, at PIC in the afternoon and spend the rest of the day at his or her “home school” of Kelly Walsh or Natrona County high.
“We’re going to create some opportunities to get kids on that campus who might be interested in academies and will be interested once they get in there, experiencing some of the school stuff we have to offer,” Trujillo explained to the board.
The four officials — Trujillo, KW’s Brad Diller, NC’s Shannon Harris and PIC’s new leader, Ron Estes — had been meeting to discuss the future of the facility, which opened this year with the goal of offering academy-based learning to high school students. They’d spend half their time at PIC, learning skills such as welding or TV broadcasting, and the other half back at their home school.
The district announced last week that Estes would replace former PIC Principal Chad Sharpe, who stepped down last month for personal reasons. Estes will act as the lead official on site at the school but will run it in conjunction with Harris and Diller.
The Star Lane Center, which also operates on a half-day system for ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders, will be moved to the Pathways campus next year, which will add more than 100 students to the building’s population.
Trujillo said the model of the academy structure at Pathways was such that students in one of the main academies, which included welding, couldn’t get certified in their chosen areas. The integrated learning approach brought those fields into conjunction with English and math classes. That method made it more difficult for students to get the level of learning in their specialized skill to ultimately get certified.
That problem will be smoothed over next year, she said.
“The staff is “married to certification and high-skills, future-careers type of learning,” she said.
The other three academies, meanwhile, will continue their integrated approach of specialized skills with those core classes.
Board trustee Dave Applegate asked if that was because the staff of those academies were determined to stick with the integrated approach or if it was because the academies truly should stick with the integrated approach.
“I don’t think we’ve given them enough time,” Trujillo replied, adding that the other academies are mapping out their plans and finding their footing.
She said she was pleased with the rubric that the instructors at Pathways has put forward to the leadership team. She said the integrated approach may not be the ultimate plan for Pathways, but she was confident with where the staff was going.
Harris said the purpose of Pathways is to serve students. And if students show they don’t want to pursue the integrated academy approach, then the school will adapt to meet their needs and desires.
“It’s about what kids want, not what adults want,” the NC principal said.
Diller said he knew there were some people at Pathways who weren’t happy with the proposed changes but echoed Harris: It’s about the students.
Applegate replied that there’s concern among the trustees that the state-of-the-art, brand-new facilities at Pathways, like the welding shops and the broadcast television studio, weren’t getting full use. Harris said one solution is that every academy teacher will offer a “singleton,” or stand-alone, class in the afternoon.
The agriculture teacher from NC will also work at Pathways in the afternoon, she said, to make use of that space.
“We think it’s a workable plan,” Diller said. “The kids didn’t flock to the integrated approach, but I think they will go for opportunities to take a class, an elective, a solid or core class. We think we can get a bunch of kids there.”
Associate Superintendent Walt Wilcox said they will pursue this plan, the mix of academies and integrated in the morning and single classes in the afternoon, for this next year. After that, they can adapt further. But he stressed that the district didn’t want to “pull the rug out” from under Pathways. Trustee Rita Walsh reiterated her support for the program and said she believes it needs time to grow.
But ultimately, officials said, Pathways will have to begin serving its designed purpose to a greater degree.
“We want to see that building full,” Trujillo said.