Woodland Hills Looking at Themed Elementary Schools for 2014-15
Part 2 of a four-part series on Woodland Hills' 'Long-Range Plan for Excellence.'
When Woodland Hills School District's ad hoc committee came up with a list of long-range planning recommendations, one was to find a way to replicate the success of the Woodland Hills Academy in the district's other schools.
As the district looks at consolidating from six to four elementary schools for the 2014-15 school year, Substitute Superintendent Alan Johnson said that the plan would be to create themed academies at each of the remaining buildings.
"I believe students will start coming back to us if we do this," Johnson said.
The district proposes closing Fairless Elementary next school year and then turning it into a "Family Service Centre" to provide a one-stop shop for social services for families of infants, todders and preschoolers. A public hearing to discuss the repurposing or closing is scheduled for 7 p.m Tuesday, March 5, at the school, 531 Jones Ave., North Braddock.
The long-range plan also calls for the district to close Shaffer Elementary in Churchill and Dickson Elementary in Swissvale at the end of the 2013-14 school year. Students would be redistributed to Wilkins and Edgewood elementary schools, Woodland Hills Junior High in Swissvale and Woodland Hills Academy in Turtle Creek.
Seventh grade would move to a separate building, in close proximity to the high school, and eighth grade would be assigned to the high school building, though in a section all to itself. Woodland Hills Academy would remain as is until the 2014-15 school year, when it would become part of the new elementary academy system.
Though subject to change, the district is looking at assigning a theme to each elementary school:
- Woodland Hills Academy would remain a traditional Latin grammar school.
- Wilkins Elementary would become the Wilkins International Studies Academy.
- Edgewood Elementary would become the Edgewood Creative Arts Academy.
- Woodland Hills Junior High would become the Swissvale STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) Academy.
Johnson said that 80 percent of the academic work would be the same across those schools, but that the other time would be used to give students an opportunity to engage in a more in-depth experience in those particular areas.
The Creative Arts Academy would provide band, chorus, orchestra and theater arts classes. The International Studies option would provide foreign language instruction and distance learning with students around the world—and provide an option for the district's growing population for whom English is a second language. The STEM Academy would use more advanced ASSET science kits and start students learning engineering principles. The Traditional Academy would remain focused on high-rigor core academics.
Each school would have its own full-time principal, assistant principal, nurse, social worker, reading specialist, behavior specialist; and tech, literacy and math coaches.
"We think that's really critical," Johnson said.
The four schools were chosen because they are each capable of supporting up to 550 students and staff. Shaffer, Dickson and Fairless cannot accommodate those numbers.
Wilkins is the newest elementary building and Edgewood is the largest. Shaffer is all-electric, making it expensive to operate.
The district plans to meet with Churchill and Swissvale officials to discuss possible uses of the Shaffer and Dickson properties, respectively. Johnson said a developer might be interested in Shaffer's property for townhomes.
"Small buildings cost you a lot of money," Johnson said. "We believe there is substantial opportunity to save by becoming more efficient."
With more rooms at each grade level, the district can better handle class sizes as students move in and out of the district without adding more teachers or having wide class size variations, he said.
With anticipated normal attrition rates, Johnson said staff jobs should not be lost with the reorganization.
The Wolverine Promise Program, an alternative education center at the former Rankin School, would expand to become a K-12 program for students with disruptive behavior. Elementary students could also opt for a district-run cyber school option, starting this August, that would follow the district curriculum.
A full hybrid learning option is also under consideration to let students take some courses at home and some in one of the brick-and-mortar schools.
"That becomes a really central part of our district's present and future," Johnson said.
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Check back with Patch for more information about the long-range plan.