State College school board reviews new education model to go with high school project

At its final meeting before the high school project building concept is chosen, the State College Board of School Directors were informed about the educational model that would accompany the new buildings.

High School Principal Scott DeShong presented an updated report about the model, focusing on decentralized learning communities and a revamped freshman experience.

The new model would allow for more cross-curricular collaboration between students and teachers to foster a better-rounded learning experience, he said.

The four decentralized learning communities would be: business and communications; health and human services; science, technology, engineering and mathematics; and arts and humanities.

DeShong said those specific learning communities are not rigid and can be updated and evolve over time.

“This can be adapted, he said, “but the core concepts — what we’re really trying to get out of this — are the same.”

Another change from the current model would include more common planning time for students and teachers with built in collaboration times for both groups. That falls in line with the advisory committee’s idea that relationships are the top guiding principle among students and teachers.

It would create a community feeling between students with like-minded interests, he said.

The freshman experience focuses on guiding ninth graders and preparing them for the rest of their high school experience. DeShong said that would most likely include a freshman seminar course built directly into the schedule.

A goal with the freshman experience would be to ease the students into the changes and new lifestyle in the high school, he said.

The majority of the schedule would be blocked off with core classes, but DeShong said the district would still emphasize choice among all the students.

“We recognize that choice is something our parents and teachers and the community has come to expect from us,” he said.

The goal would be able to fully implement the changes for the 2018-2019 school year if the building referendum passes and the construction is on-schedule. Some of the concepts could be incorporated sooner, but the full model wouldn’t come until the new building is constructed, DeShong said.

Amy Yurko, educational planner from Brainspaces Inc., also presented at the meeting on the educational specifications and showed potential diagrams regarding how the learning communities could be grouped and clustered.

She said the model could be implemented in both remaining building concepts — B and D. Concept B would locate core academic classes on both sides of Westerly Parkway with a bridge connecting the two buildings and Concept D would locate all core academic classes on the south side of the street.

A vote to adopt the draft education specifications is expected at the Sept. 23 meeting, following a community forum on facilities on Sept. 11.

The board also discussed the pros and cons of accelerating the timeline of the project with a February 2014 referendum in a special election instead of the currently scheduled May 2014 vote.

John Beddia, architect from Crabtree, Rohrbaugh and Associates, said the early time frame would provide an earlier bid for services, more months of construction and an earlier completion date for either concept.

But the February vote would come with an added cost of as much as $60,000 for the special election and divert from the publicized time frame.

No action was taken or scheduled to change the date of the referendum, but Superintendent Bob O’Donnell said he would like to see updated calendars by the next board meeting for both time frames to make things clearer.