Woodland Hills Eyes 7th-Grade Center, 8th at High School, 9-12 Academies
Part 3 of a four-part series on Woodland Hills' 'Long-Range Plan for Excellence.'
The realignment of Woodland Hills' secondary schools will feature major changes in the district's organization if the proposals in the district's long-range plan are approved by the school board.
The district projects that it could save $2-3 million a year by closing three elementary schools, moving seventh-graders to a separate building close to the high school and bringing eighth-graders into the high school building, according to Substitute Superintendent Alan Johnson, who unveiled the district's long-range plan to community leaders on Monday.
Part of the plan includes creating four distinct "academies" within the high school to give students areas of focus that will help them explore interests and move them toward career choices.
The changes could begin as early as this fall, when eighth graders would move to Woodland Hills High School, in a part of the building that is separate from the main high school corridors. For next year, seventh graders would remain at Woodland Hills Junior High in Swissvale and the Woodland Hills Academy.
But in the 2014-15 school year, the 200-300 seventh-grade students would be in their own standalone "Transition Centre" in close proximity to the high school.
The center could find its home in the current administration building, if plans to sell it to TREK Development fall through. It could also be a completely new traditional building constructed on the high school campus.
Or, seventh-graders might find themselves in a premanufactured school, which is becoming a popular choice for school districts, Johnson said. The modular construction comes with advanced technology, restrooms, offices, gyms and libraries at half the cost of building a traditional school. If a second floor is needed, elevators are installed.
The premanufactured buildings can be leased for seven to 10 years or purchased. If the district decides to change directions, the school can be disassembled, Johnson said. He envisions that building somewhere behind the high school cafeteria area.
The focus on seventh grade is critical because that is the pivotal year for Woodland Hills students, the substitute superintendent said.
"We feel we are losing a lot of kids in seventh grade," Johnson said. "Junior high has been the source of problems and consistent behavioral issues."
Johnson said that the center would guide students in a highly-structured transition from the elementary to high school setting. The school would include a course that focuses on the student handbook, code of conduct, expectations for citizenship and decisionmaking prior to the students entering high school.
"The first day would look like the last day of sixth grade and the last day would be like when you get to eighth grade," Johnson said.
By being close to the high school, seventh-grade students who, for instance, are ready for algebra can take it on the same level of rigor as high school students, not a watered-down version for younger students. Johnson said some students who took algebra before high school ended up having to repeat it because they were not ready for more advanced math. With Keystone Exams being required as students are taking the classes, it is important to students to be up to speed with the class requirements.
"We won't hold you back but we will hold you accountable," he said.
The long-range plan calls for the high school to become an 8-12 Career Pathways high school with up to 1,500 students. Johnson emphasized that eighth-graders would be kept separate from the main high school. Because of the wide age difference between them and some high school students who are almost 20 or 21 years old, it's important to be careful, he said.
The existing high school would be renovated as a Career Pathway high school. To accomplish that goal, the school would create four separate academies within the building to get students "starting to think about the rest of their lives."
The four distinct academies would include:
- STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) Academy—Subjects like organic chemistry, AP biology, robotics and nanotechnology would be offered to students who choose this route.
- Industrial Technologies Academy—Students would master a trade or craft. Some examples are learning to use CNC (computer numerical controlled) lathes and drill presses, or obtaining Cisco or A+ certifications in computer technology. Some students could graduate with both a diploma and a certificate in a technology area.
- Human Services Academy—This focus would be on careers such as law enforcement, firefighting, emergency medical services, child care, teaching and cosmetology.
- Art and Communications Academy—Students interested in music, art, graphic design, commercial art and radio/television would be able to focus on those areas of study.
Johnson said that students would not be confined to a single academy so that their areas of interest could be accommodated.
By creating an eighth- to 12th-grade building at the high school, the district would be able to expand its career and technology offerings and increase the level of rigor. The district is exploring the idea of bringing some programs back to the district that now require students to travel to Forbes Road Career and Technology Center in Monroeville for a half-day of instruction.
The school's College Access Center would be a vital part of each student's senior year. In addition to serving the current students, it would also be a vehicle to keep in touch with alumni. Johnson said that the district could keep in touch with graduates through Facebook and Twitter.
The district would provide a robust program of educational alternatives for secondary students for whom the standard high school program is not appropriate:
- The Wolverine Promise Program at Rankin School for students with disruptive behaviors.
- A district-run cyber school that is projected to open in August 2013.
- A hybrid learning center option that allows students to take some of their classes at home and others at school.
- A credit recovery and dropout recovery program to grant diplomas rather than GEDs to students who have left school.
What do you think of this plan? Share your ideas/opinions in the comments section.
Check back with Patch for more information about the long-range plan: