Broken Arrow Express
PUBLIC INPUT: Broken Arrow Schools Superintendent Dr. Jarod Mendenhall speaks during a public forum held in October regarding its high school configuration study, which began last year. Currently, the study is in its third of four phases to determine the best way to manage growth at the high school.
EMILY RAMSEY for GTR Newspapers
In an effort to gain community input regarding its high school configuration study, Broken Arrow Public Schools conducted three public forums in October and put out an online survey on baschools.org, which is available until Nov. 1.
BAPS is in the third of four phases of its comprehensive evaluation of potential high school configurations. The district began planning for this study in the summer of 2015. That fall, the board of education commissioned a 20-person steering committee comprised of parents, students, district staff and community members to evaluate the future of the high school.
“During my first few years in the district, we were very focused on providing equity for every student and eliminating portable buildings from all of our schools,” says BAPS Superintendent Dr. Jarod Mendenhall. “As we were concluding that process, our community had made it clear to me that (addressing how to manage growth at the high school) was something they wanted, so we began the process in 2015.
“The goal of the study is to develop a long-term plan for our high school to accommodate student growth at the ninth through 12th grade levels.”
For the past several months, working groups have been researching which high school model will maximize student achievement and engagement, given the available facilities, financial resources and human capital.
The district has put forward three options for the future high school configuration in its effort to deal with its growing student numbers. The three options are: 1-creating multiple high schools; 2-creating multiple high schools based on grade level; 3-creating high school academies that each focus on a different area of study, such as the arts and STEM.
“When determining the models that we would put forward to the public, we had to narrow our focus,” said Mendenhall at one of the forums.
Therefore, the steering committee visited numerous large school districts in nearby states.
For example, the Plano Independent School District, in Plano, Texas, with 55,000 students, has three senior high schools plus a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) center.
In Olathe, Kansas, its public school system has close to 30,000 students and four high schools, each high school highlighting certain career interests. The school district is opening a fifth high school in fall 2017.
The public school district in Frisco, Texas, builds a new high school every time the district reaches a certain number of students. Currently, the school district has nine high schools.
In Nashville, Tennessee, all of Metro Nashville Public Schools’ high schools are academies. The school district has more than 88,000 students.
“Looking at these various school districts throughout the country is how we came up with these three models,” said Mendenhall.
The steering committee will continue its research through the end of the year and will begin evaluating the data in January. In May, the committee will present a long-term plan to manage high school growth to the school board.
“We were pleased with the turnout for the public forums, and we gained a lot of valuable insight from those who attended. What resonated most with me was that our parents, staff and students are supportive of a change to manage growth: they understand that we cannot remain one high school,” says Mendenhall.
“By having these conversations with our community, we are able to have a better understanding of concerns that need to be addressed as we develop our roadmap for the future and do further research into various aspects of each model.”
One concern that was raised during the forums was regarding the academy model and the commitment that students would be asked to make in choosing one career path or interest.
“Academies can have a specific focus but still be very broad,” said one committee member in response. “We can have total local control on how it’s managed.”
There is still much room for conceptualization and catering the models and programs to our preferences, Mendenhall added.
Another option, he continued, could be that students attend an academy for half of each day, similar to how students attend Tulsa Tech, a program that has seen consistent popularity among B.A. students.
“In the past, due to the high level of student interest, we have not been able to get as many kids involved in Tech who want to be involved,” said Mendenhall.
Regardless of what high school model is chosen for the future, administrators plan to continue the partnership with Tulsa Tech and to keep growing other offerings for its students.
An example of that is a beginning manufacturing course that began on the high school campus two years ago. The class was formed not only due to large student interest but also due to the needs of local companies.
“Manufacturing companies were crying out to us to help them have an educated workforce for them,” said Mendenhall.