Troubled school to split into 5 specialized parts

March 29, 1995|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,Sun Staff Writer

At Patterson High School, administrators and teachers plan to fight student failure with a divide-and-conquer offensive.

In a drastic departure for a traditional institution that crams 1,800 teens into football-field-length hallways for up to 10 period changes a day, Patterson will become, in effect, five schools in one.

"Our ultimate goal is to have failure outlawed at Patterson," said teacher William Morrison, who yesterday helped unveil details of the planned reorganization for the state Board of Education.

Students already have been asked to choose from among four career-themed academies that will open this fall, said Principal Bonnie Erickson. Each academy of 275 to 300 students will have its own curriculum, teachers, partnerships with area businesses -- and its own space within the school.

The academies are: arts and humanities, business and finance, sports science and allied health, and transportation and manufacturing. Each will guide students toward graduation targets: work, or two-year or four-year college.

A fifth academy focusing on core course work and school-success skills will be made up of the entering ninth-graders, about 800 students making the tough transition from middle school. Their curriculum will include extra math course work and a class in keyboarding, which will be needed as they move on to academies equipped with computers.

"What we're trying to do is give students a sense of ownership," Ms. Erickson said. "This will be my academy, my school. It won't be an impersonal place."

Each teacher will be assigned to advise 15 students throughout their years at Patterson. Team-teaching methods usually found in middle schools will be employed. The school day will be divided into four periods, eliminating hallway traffic and opportunities for fights, increasing class time and allowing for planning periods.

Identified by the state board as a failing school in 1994, Patterson was given the option of reorganizing or being retooled. Its first plan was rejected by the board. A proposal to turn school management over to an out-of-state school also failed. Ultimately, Ms. Erickson said, the school had to seek solutions from inside for its low achievement and near-50 percent ninth-grade dropout rate.

Yesterday, the plan won from the board some of the strongest encouragement received to date. It has been, by most accounts, a painful but rewarding process, complicated at times by teacher dissension and by doubters among students and parents, Ms. Erickson said.

School board member Edward Andrews urged the principal to take advantage of zero-based staffing this summer to give teachers who are not "on board" a chance to transfer to other schools. Ms. Erickson answered promptly, "We will."

"What we want is a totally committed team of staff people who share the same vision and mission," she said. "We can disagree, and then work toward a consensus, but we can't have continued dissent."

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