Publication Date: Wednesday, March 17, 2004
New high school would give diplomas in three years
New high school would give diplomas in three years
(March 17, 2004) ** M-A principal Eric Hartwig to head no-frills school aimed at average students.
By David Boyce
Almanac Staff Writer
An alternative to the traditional four-year high school education is in the works at the Sequoia Union High School District.
While the plan is still in the very early stages, Eric Hartwig -- principal of Menlo-Atherton High School -- has been tapped to organize and run a new three-year high school that would meet University of California entrance requirements.
The school would open in September 2005 with an initial class of 80 to 100 students and five teachers, rising to about 350 students and 15 teachers when fully enrolled, Mr. Hartwig told the Almanac.
The intent, Mr. Hartwig said, is to attract college-bound middle-to-upper-performing students who are willing to forego some of the extras of a comprehensive high school -- such as advanced-placement classes and athletic programs -- in exchange for smaller classes, extensive academic support and a core curriculum reorganized to emphasize an interdisciplinary approach.
"There's probably not going to be a lot of variety in what they take" in terms of electives, Mr. Hartwig said. The key question, he said, is whether the new school can motivate students to defer some good times in high school for a college degree later. "I've spent my whole career trying to answer [this question]," Mr. Hartwig said, noting that this school would test students' resolve to tackle "things that aren't always fun."
The community's interest in smaller, more personalized education environments -- evident in the enrollment of some 500 students in four charter high schools located in the district -- also figured in the proposed school, Mr. Hartwig said.
Redwood City's Summit Preparatory High School, which opened in September with 100 students in its freshman class, offers an integrated program of English, math, science and social studies.
"We can do that kind of thing as well or better than they can," Mr. Hartwig said. "That's not the only motivation, but it was certainly part of the puzzle ... as to why we're doing this now."
The student-to-teacher ratio at M-A averages 33-to-1, Mr. Hartwig said. The new school would have a ratio of 23-to-1 if staffed as proposed.
The school will not have an "abnormal" school year, Mr. Hartwig said, but noted that he has not yet written a calendar for it.
Population growth in the district is an issue, said superintendent Patrick Gemma in an interview. Three of Sequoia's four comprehensive high schools are at or near capacity. The district expects enrollment to grow by at least 500 students, an increase of 6.6 percent, by the 2006-07 school year.
Charter school enrollment could grow to 1,300 or more over the same period if current trends continue.
Saving money is another priority. The district would save money for each student who graduated in three years, Mr. Gemma said.
The district has the money in the capital budget to build a new school, he said, but with a planned opening in 16 months, it may be a while before classes are held in a new school building.
Mr. Hartwig said that prefabricated buildings or a rented space may be used to temporarily house the school, but noted that these decisions have yet to be made.
The idea of a three-year high school began last summer in conversations with staff, principals and the Board of Trustees, said Mr. Gemma.
"It's an idea that kind of percolated," Mr. Hartwig said, adding that he asked to head the new high school.
Mr. Hartwig will leave M-A at in June, after nine years as principal, to take a position in the district's education services department, he said. "I always thought it would take a team of wild horses to drag me away from M-A," he added.
A similar three-year program in Florida draws about 5 percent of high school students, Mr. Gemma said. If the school is over-subscribed, a lottery would likely be used to determine who gets in.
Asked about the possibility of creating feelings of exclusivity around the new school, school board president Don Gibson -- who said he himself graduated from high school in three years -- downplayed it. "A lot of kids look forward to four years. They enjoy their high school," he said.
The Sequoia district is also looking into ways to better prepare students for high school. Woodside High School Principal Linda Common has said that 70 percent of incoming freshmen are not ready for high-school reading.
Sequoia is considering partnering with the Redwood City Elementary School District to establish a bridge school that would cover grades six through 10, with about 80 low-achieving students in each grade level, Mr. Gemma said. The student-to-teacher ratio would be 20-to-1, he said.
Students would leave this school when ready to return to middle school or to a comprehensive high school, Mr. Gemma said. The planning for this school is slightly behind the three-year high school, he said.
The Sequoia district has four comprehensive high schools -- M-A, Woodside, Sequoia and Carlmont -- and 17 so-called feeder schools from elementary school districts located within the high school district.
Mr. Hartwig said he plans a "very wide publicity" program to inform the middle schools though there are, as yet, no specific plans on how to match applicants to the district's schools, he said.
"It's not a plan to skim high-performing kids" from the comprehensive high schools, he noted.
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