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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.

Tell us what you think in the comments section.

Check back with Patch for more information about the long-range plan.

Woodland Hills Looks at a Proactive Approach for Preschool Families

Woodland Hills Long Range Plan: The Seven Tiers

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Steve Karas February 28, 2013 at 01:18 PM
Can someone provide an example of a public school system where this has been implemented and effective? Just because there are charter schools does not mean WHSD has to emulate them...
Miriam Meislik Lee February 28, 2013 at 03:18 PM
Does it matter if someone else has done it before? I am interested in learning more about the ideas proposed. There are many public school districts across Pennsylvania that run their own cyber program. They can control the curriculum and they keep the students and their money in the district. New York State has an interesting program that offers online and blended courses, courses that have online and on-site students enrolled in the same course at the same time. Universities have offered online and blended courses with success. After a few minutes of searching I was to locate schools that seem to have integrated technology, online, and on-site education successfully. The key is that whatever plan is agreed upon, the support and technology has to be there. Resources and trained staff need to be available at every level. Maybe Woodland Hills can do something that makes them the leader in this area?
Jamie Marshall February 28, 2013 at 04:46 PM
the idea of an academy is great but what happens when you get to 7th or 8th grade? seems like everyone is then pushed back together and all the specialties are gone. The children in the academy now stay there till they have to move to 9th grade.
Andrea Clarkson February 28, 2013 at 04:49 PM
With the academy model having different focuses will students be able to choose which school they will attend? Details maybe too early to discuss but how do you manage enrollment? And what about bussing costs?
Zandy Dudiak February 28, 2013 at 05:06 PM
Jamie, We'll cover the 7-12 plans on Patch tomorrow. Stay tuned.
Luna February 28, 2013 at 06:11 PM
Themed schools at the elementary level? Why? Children that young should not be specializing-- they should be getting a well-rounded experience so they have a broad foundation of knowledge and experience to draw upon when they have to make decisions about their future. I have one student who is interested in both foreign languages and music. Where would he go? Public education should concentrate on the foundations of schooling for the younger crowd and give opportunity for specialization as kids get older. As a parent who moved her children out of the Woodland Hills School District, I can say there's nothing they can do to entice us back.
Sue T February 28, 2013 at 06:33 PM
Although this sounds interesting what I would like to see is an action plan, and how this concept will fit into that plan 1) identification of the key factors that are drawing children/parents away from WHS 2) specfic action items designed to address each of the issues in item 1. 3) how do themed schools fit into these actions 4) how will progress addressing each action item be measured? Right now, I have no idea how the temed schools will address the factors that have drawn studens away from the school district. I also think Luna has raised a valid point, themed schools may not be appropriate for students at his level. It makes more sense at the jr or sr high school level.
Mary February 28, 2013 at 09:21 PM
I think themed elementary schools are a good idea. My oldest spent two years at the Academy when they had Spanish in all grades and loved it. I just hope parents have a say about which school the children attend. My kids don't have an interest in the arts but Edgewood is our "home" school. As long as the kids still learn the basics and there's a real commitment to the plan. Also if they are putting kids in the Jr High building it needs major renovations. I know they were slated to get some a few years ago but that got pushed aside. The interior is depressing and outdated.
Debbie February 28, 2013 at 11:27 PM
I think this is the most ridiculous idea I have ever heard. I have a child at Shffer now. If they close Shaffer, I will pull my child from the district and place them in a private school.

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