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Second alternative high school climbs district’s wish list

Sun., Feb. 14, 2010

Site soon available in Hillyard pushes idea to fore

Spokane Public Schools leaders are contemplating the creation of a seventh high school in hopes of lowering the district’s high dropout rate.

Ideas for the new school center on giving students an alternative to the district’s five traditional high schools, which have more than 1,300 students each. District officials say the school would more closely resemble Havermale High School, which has about 350 students.

Administrators caution that the idea is preliminary and say that even if it’s ultimately built, a new school wouldn’t open until after 2015, when the district expects to ask voters to renew its construction property tax.

The concept has received attention at Spokane City Hall in recent weeks because the district is pursuing the purchase of the Mann Army Reserve Center in Hillyard, in part as a possible site for a new high school.

Spokane Public Schools’ dropout rate is nearly 40 percent, and the district and a variety of community leaders say that reducing that figure is a regional priority.

“We certainly have a need for designing alternative pathways to decrease our dropout rate,” Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson said. “The one-size-fits-all high school is just not doing it.”

Jon Swett, the district’s executive director of high schools, said two concepts have developed for a new campus. Under one, the school would focus on science, technology, engineering and math. The other concept would align closely with the Spokane Skills Center, which trains students from 11 area school districts in several fields, including computer programming, vehicle-collision repair and health science.

“We are always looking for options for kids,” Swett said. “What that really means is we don’t believe that all kids fit into the same box.”

Late last year, the district asked city leaders to allow them to take over the full acreage of the Mann Army Reserve Center. The reserves are moving to Fairchild Air Force Base later this year. Under congressional rules for closing such facilities, the city was given input into the property’s future.

After an application process, the City Council approved a school district plan for the site in 2008, but it determined a portion of the land should be sold for private development.

Late last year, the district requested that the council reconsider the decision so the entire lot can be used for the district, keeping it an option for a high school. The site is attractive for such a school partly because it is only a few blocks from the skills center, Anderson said.

The City Council will hold a hearing on the school district’s proposal during its 6 p.m. meeting Monday at Spokane City Hall. If the council approves the request and federal officials agree, the district can buy the site for 20 percent of its value. Anderson said the district expects to pay between $200,000 and $400,000.

Even if the new high school doesn’t materialize, the district can use the site, said Kevin Morrison, a district facilities and planning technical specialist.

Short-term plans for the Mann Center include storage and moving administrators and other school employees from rented space on East Sprague Avenue.

Anderson said the district expects to house more than 100 employees on the property.

Two years ago, the Hillyard Neighborhood Council endorsed a plan for the Mann Center that focused more on adult education. While the school plan wasn’t the neighborhood council’s first choice, Chairman Luke Tolley said if the district follows through on its pledges, including one to allow construction of a neighborhood gateway at the south end of the property, it could be a welcome addition.

“We’re not going to have to worry about having an eyesore there,” he said.


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