BY RACHAEL GRAY
The four academies at Garden City High School have changed the way students interact with each other, instructors and curriculum at the new high school.
The smaller learning communities were designed to break up one of the largest high schools in Kansas into smaller schools.
In the first and second nine weeks at GCHS, the academies have accomplished that, and also have cut truancy and tardiness almost in half, high school officials said Monday night at the regularly-scheduled USD 457 Board of Education meeting.
The Freshman Academy has 534 students, School of Trade and Health Sciences has 632, School of Arts and Communications has 313 and the School of Public Service has 501, officials said Monday.
Compared to the old high school, which had multiple entrances and an open lunch, the new high school with its secured entrances and closed lunch policy has had about half the tardies.
Tracy Newell, associate principal, said that in the 2011-12 school year, the old school had 8,684 tardies in the first nine weeks. This year at the new facility, that number was cut to 4,402.
"The new building has done that for us. It has cut that number in half," Newell said.
He said the academies often make students' classes closer together, or make students migrate toward those areas. They also aren't allowed to go back into the parking lot once school is in session.
In the second nine weeks for the 2011-12 school year, GCHS had 8,097 tardies at the old building. This school year, GCHS had 4,225 in the second nine weeks.
Unexcused absences also have gone down, Newell said. For the first nine weeks in 2011-12, the school had 10,117 absences. This school year, that number was 5,301. For the second nine weeks in 2011-12, GCHS saw 13,086 absences. This year, the school had 8,638.
"For some reason, we have more in the second nine weeks," Newell said.
He said instead of skipping certain classes because students can't come and go as they please, some are deciding to skip the whole day.
James Mireles, principal, said school officials plan to tackle that problem.
"We used to have kids come in for a few periods and leave. Now they can't leave, so they just don't come at all," he said.
In addition to cutting those numbers, the academy atmosphere also is promoting the learning of Common Core Standards, with less subjects reaching into more areas, Mireles said.
Mireles said a planned Common Core Standards curriculum building-wide will roll out Monday.
"We'll have the whole building teaching reading and writing skills," he said.
He said he thinks the curriculum will further engage and challenge students.
"When students are bored, a lot of times they don't participate," he said.
Mireles said when teachers build positive, relevant relationships with students, they are more likely to perform.
He also discussed the role of the iPad in the academies and in Common Core Standards.
"With the iPads, we made the right decision," he said.
In order to further engage students, enhance Common Core learning and help students become viable members of the workforce, Mireles wants to build partnerships with area businesses.
"I think our biggest thing right now with Common Core is finding business partners in the community and having them come to us and tell us, 'this is what students need to do in order to work for us,'" he said.