BROKEN ARROW — The Broken Arrow school board on Monday evening approved three recommendations designed to redefine the high school experience and prepare students to thrive in the real world.
Board members voted unanimously in favor of the long-awaited recommendations after listening to a presentation from the district’s configuration committee, which has spent years studying the future and framework of Broken Arrow High School.
The committee proposed two years ago to convert the Freshman Academy into a second high school now and then build a third high school by 2031 to accommodate the district’s growing student population. But community members decried the proposal, arguing that the Freshman Academy building would not be as equitable for students as the current high school building.
Because there’s not enough money from the 2015 bond issue to build a new school, officials took a step back and formed a second group that focused on improving academic programming and brainstorming innovative ways to better serve students. This would give the district time to flesh out academics now and not have to worry about adding another high school until the next school bond election in 2027, Superintendent Janet Dunlop said.
“The Visioning Task Force came to the conclusion that we need to talk about the high school experience, not the facilities, because form follows function,” Dunlop said. “Once we know what function we need, then we can concentrate on the facilities or the space around it. But to just say that we’re going to build a new building, it’s completely backward of what makes sense when you’re talking about instructional planning.”
The task force decided on three proposals after meeting for more than a year and presented them to the configuration committee in 2018. The two groups worked together to further discuss bond money and the financial forecast in relation to the proposals.
Committee members say the implementation of these recommendations will increase student engagement and help retain students who feel disengaged.
The first recommendation involves building career pathways for high-schoolers, who will use project-based learning to explore career fields alongside other students with similar interests. Students may experience off-campus job apprenticeships and internships during their junior and senior years, often with local advisory boards and community partnerships.
Pathways could include health/environmental/animal science; computer science/cyber security/eCommunications/eCommerce; and premanufacturing/pre-engineering.
Committee member Amanda Westcott, a former Broken Arrow teacher who now works at TulsaTech, said students will be able to change pathways easily as they learn more about their interests and skillsets.
“People change their minds. Even college students change their minds,” Westcott said. “So we wanted to make sure you’re not locked into a pathway the moment you’ve chosen.”
The district will have to repurpose some of its existing spaces to make room for career pathway instruction, and the high school’s bell schedule is being reviewed to determine a more efficient and flexible way to schedule classes.
Westcott also said early career exploration is important so students don’t feel overwhelmed when they begin building their pathways in the ninth grade. The district is working on a relevant curriculum that begins as early as kindergarten and allows students to explore careers with which they may have little exposure.
The second recommendation involves creating relationships between the high school and colleges to allow students to take college credit courses part-time or full-time on a college campus, in addition to more common dual-credit course options.
District officials already have begun implementing programs giving students a head start for college. Its concurrent enrollment program allows juniors and seniors to attend college courses during the school day through Tulsa Community College at Northeastern State University in Broken Arrow so they can receive both high school credit and college credit at a reduced cost.
“This is going to save our parents money because students can already be taking courses that they won’t have to pay as much for later in the future,” said Kim Garrett, director of high school academics.
Garrett said research shows that once students complete 15 hours of credit, they are much more likely to graduate from college.
The third recommendation concerns the creation of the Innovation Center, which will feature programming for current and future applications of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
Sharon James, executive director of secondary instruction, said the Innovation Center will help students study STEM subjects in greater depth and better develop problem-solving skills. It’s intended to be geared toward solving real-world, relevant problems in a multidisciplinary project-based platform.
For this to work, James said the Innovation Center will need state-of-the-art lab spaces and large indoor and outdoor spaces for exploration and innovative projects.
The configuration committee proposed three sites for the center, which will be funded by the 2015 school bond issue. Those locations are the Spoon property a quarter mile north of the Broken Arrow High School main campus; the Aspen property, which is adjacent to Aspen Creek Elementary School; and on the Freshman Academy campus.
The school board will vote later on which site will be used to build the Innovation Center.
Committee members also discussed three possibilities for adding another high school when it’s time for the next bond election in eight years. Although they legally can’t tell a future school board how to spend future bond money, they can make suggestions, Westcott said.
The three options are a second “early tech” magnet high school on the Aspen property, a second and third academic magnet high school on the Freshman Academy campus, and a second and third comprehensive high school with career pathway academies at Aspen Creek Early Childhood Center or Oneta Ridge Middle School.
“We wanted to show that there is potential for growth in the future and then give the next board an idea of what we, in 2019, are looking for in 2027,” Westcott said.
Dunlop, the superintendent, said she’s proud of the work that’s been accomplished to make high school better, adding that students are “begging” for opportunities to do things that are more relevant and hands-on.
“The model of high school that we’ve experienced is archaic, and we have got to redefine what it looks like to be a high school experience now,” she said.