Enrollment at Pathways Innovation Center continues to stagnate at roughly a quarter of the building’s capacity, school officials said Monday afternoon, despite another recent push to sell Natrona County students on the facility.
Two-hundred and seventy-six students attend Pathways, which is capable of holding 500 students in both the morning and afternoon classes. Kelly Walsh and Natrona County high schools each have 77 students enrolled at the facility, while one Midwest student attends. The remaining 121 kids are from Roosevelt High School, which shares a campus with Pathways.
In mid-September last year, the facility had roughly 250 students. Approximately 100 more, from the since-shuttered Star Lane program, also filled the campus, to bring the total population at the building last fall to around 350 students.
It’s a blow to the Natrona County School District, which otherwise experienced positive enrollment trends overall this year for the first time since the recent economic bust hit. The $25 million Pathways building is in its third year and has had a handful of revamps since it opened to sluggish growth in fall 2016.
Hopkins told the Star-Tribune in June that the five-year roll out that was intended for Pathways was cut short by the economic crisis. On top of that, there’s evidence the program wasn’t advertised well — roughly two-thirds of high schoolers said last year that they weren’t aware of the building’s offerings.
The district needed the building to be a success, with high schools filling up and the demand for classrooms and teachers rising proportionately. To achieve that goal, officials have repeatedly shifted the building’s offerings, eventually eliminating its academy-based approach. It now offers classes that are generally — but not entirely — exclusive to Pathways, and students from NC and KW attend in morning and afternoon blocks.
A group of board members and district officials passed little comment on the enrollment numbers during a committee meeting. But Debbie McCullar, a board member who sits on the academic steering committee, seemed incredulous.
“That’s lower than last year,” she said, after the enrollment numbers were read aloud.
“It’s about flat,” Superintendent Steve Hopkins said.
“We gotta figure out what to do with that,” McCullar said, frustrated.
Hopkins said Shannon Harris, the principal at Natrona County, and Mike Britt, her counterpart at Kelly Walsh, would be meeting soon to discuss better programming.