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Board Narrows High School Concepts, Requests More Information

(November 26, 2019) A vision for the future of the St. Joseph School District’s facilities continues to take shape as the Board of Education narrows the options for high school plans.

The Board came to a consensus during Monday’s meeting to move forward with conversations around the concepts that include building new -- with more information needed to determine if a one or two high school model would be best for students.

“If we are going to do it, we need to do it right. The Board understands the importance of this decision for our kids and the community,” said Seth Wright, Board president. We have to balance educational opportunity versus operational efficiency. At the end of the day, the goal is to make the district stronger academically.”

The decision from the Board follows a year-long process that included research from architecture and planning partners, as well as community engagement.

DLR Group, the design firm contracted by the district, presented an overview on Monday of community feedback and other data collected since March. The process included facilities assessments, concept development and refinement, and small and large group discussions.

VIEW THE FULL PRESENTATION

The priorities that emerged from those discussions included:

  • Need to focus on a unifying community narrative
  • Need to prioritize investment to maximize return on new or modernized facilities
  • Need for a forward-looking or “future ready” plan

More than 600 people participated in surveys that allowed them to rank five concepts with a particular focus on the high schools.

  • Concept A: New Single High School
  • Concept B: Two New High Schools
  • Concept C: Build New High School & Renovate Central
  • Concept D: Renovate Current High Schools
  • Concept E: New 9th Grade Center & 10-12 High School

Overall sentiments were highest for Concept B (Two New High Schools) and Concept D (Renovate Current High Schools). The idea to renovate current schools also received the most division of opinion amongst respondents. Nearly as many people felt it was the wrong approach as felt is was the right one.

“Our current three high school landscape is not achieving what we want to achieve as a Board of Education and in this community,” said Dr. Bryan Green, Board of Education member. “I would argue that our three current three high school landscape - no matter how much we renovate the buildings - is not going to achieve the purposes that we have here in terms of ‘why a master facilities plan?’”

The concept with the most questions and concerns was Concept A (Single New High School), and the concept with the most common ground was Concept B (Two New High Schools).

READ THE FULL SUMMARY REPORT

Those surveyed expressed interested in learning more about how changes to facilities would impact opportunities for student academic success. They also wanted more information on the impact on the community narrative and opportunities for extra-curriculars.

Board members echoed those sentiments and also requested details related to the operational costs and the district’s bonding capacity. They discussed next steps in finding a solution that meets the needs of students and the community.

“You start out with certain scenarios, but then you start to look at combining and taking a little bit of this and a little bit of that and coming up with something that 1) you can afford, and  2) is something the community supports and most of all what’s best for kids,” said Lori Prussman, Board member.

Others explained the need to further consider the impact of closing buildings.

“I think it’s going to be important to the community to know what’s going to happen to our historic high schools that exist,” said Board member Kappy Hodges. “We have a lot of history in this town and I think we have a large interest in making sure those are still schools.”

The Board directed district administrators to find answers to questions gathered during the community engagement process, and report back to help members determine which option is best to present to the public for financial support.

  • What are the possibilities and impacts for academic programming at new versus renovated schools?
  • If new schools are built, where would they be located?
  • How would transportation look under the different concepts?
  • What transportation challenges would we need to solve?
  • What would a redistricting process look like?
  • What would the extracurricular landscape look like at the schools under the different concepts?

Dr. Doug Van Zyl, SJSD’s superintendent, said he will work with district leaders to answer as many questions as possible before the December 16 Board of Education meeting. The Board will use that information to further narrow the concepts in the weeks ahead.

"Board members realize the impact that this decision will have on our district and community. They are taking their time and the appropriate steps to make sure they are as informed as they can be, before finalizing their decision," said Dr. Van Zyl.

WATCH MONDAY’S BOARD MEETING