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Pathways Innovation Center

Pathways Innovation Center is seen Tuesday afternoon in west Casper. The school has been plagued by low enrollment, but officials are expecting 75 more students next year. 

Fewer than 300 high school students are set to attend Pathways Innovation Center next year, a bump of as much as 75 students from current levels but still well below the building’s capacity.

The Natrona County school board, district officials and high school leaders met Monday night to provide an update on PIC, which is in the midst of another revamp after its enrollment languished below a quarter of its potential of 1,000 students — 500 in each the morning and afternoon. The building, which cost $25 million and shares a campus with the new Roosevelt High School, will begin its third year in the fall.

But the high school leaders — Pathway’s Ron Estes, Midwest’s Chris Tobin and incoming Kelly Walsh Principal Mike Britt — all expressed determined optimism about the future of Pathways. The building will primarily host KW students in the morning and Natrona County High kids in the afternoon next year, with Roosevelt students attending during both blocks. Many classes offered there will be unique to the facility, but some will have overlap at the other schools.

Britt, who will take over next year for the retiring Brad Diller, said the two large high schools — his Kelly Walsh and Shannon Harris’ Natrona County High — will have Pathways instructors teach introductory courses. The goal will be to make connections between the teachers and their subject areas and the students, who may want to pursue them further at PIC.

“As we get the opportunity for our teachers to get to the big schools, good things are going to happen,” Estes said. “Enrollment this year is what it is. We’re excited about having more students next year.”

Estes, who’s an assistant principal and the top official on-site at Pathways, said the building’s recent open house drew a crowd of hundreds of people. Britt added that word of mouth may spread from older kids to their younger siblings and among parents.

But some members of the board were still concerned. Pathways’ enrollment has been consistently low, to the point that the district abandoned much of PIC’s project- and problem-based learning and academy approach — the curriculum upon which the facility was built — in October.

Trustee Debbie McCullar told the high school administrators it was easy to sit and say that Pathways students will carry the good word of the program back to Kelly Walsh and Natrona County High.

“But we’ve had kids in the building for two years, and that doesn’t seem to be the case,” she said.

“I don’t think you can force them to do it,” Estes replied. “Our draw is certifications. That’s going to be the draw.”

He listed the numbers of students who’ll be receiving certifications this year in CPR, automotive areas and as certified nursing assistants. Plus, the high schools are also moving closer to being on the same schedule, Tobin said.

That was greeted with a literal “hallelujah” from the board.

“I thought that was a sacred cow,” trustee Clark Jensen said.

“It’s taken us two years,” Superintendent Steve Hopkins said.

Trustee Dave Applegate expressed optimism for the future. While fewer than 300 students may not seem impressive given the building’s capacity, a jump of 70 to 75 kids is significant.

“Three hundred’s not enough,” board chairwoman Rita Walsh replied. But she praised the idea of sending teachers to the large schools to sell Pathways. “Kids choose classes by the teachers. If you can get teachers showing them that it’s good, I think that as much as the kids is going to get them. But 300‘s not enough. But we’ll have to go slow.”

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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