When asked by their new Superintendent, David Peterson: “If you could do something different than you are doing now for your students, would you?” school leaders from two alternative high schools in Nampa, Idaho answered with a resounding, “Yes!”
These leaders, these educators embraced this opportunity to examine their thinking, to confront the reality that in order for their students to do better, their schools would have to be different. How different, was their true challenge.
These school leaders set out with an analysis of the needs of their students. They researched and asked about all aspects of their students’ needs in order to identify recurring patterns. Their search for answers resulted in the development of specific design features that they’ve come to believe are necessary for their whole school community.
Their next step was to initiate an organized investigation of models that we having more success than they were with the types of populations they were serving. After a rigorous examination (that included visitations to over 18 Big Picture Schools from across the country), they decided that the Big Picture Learning design principles most met their needs.
Within three months of adoption – and with the full support of Superintendent Peterson and their Board of Trustees, they accomplished something which before they’d considered highly unlikely. They combined what had been long-standing and separate alternative schools into one Big Picture school. Their next step was to prepare teachers for how their work and roles would change, but they accomplished this by providing educators with the permission to make their own personal decisions, based upon their own interests. They next held information sessions with students and parents so that they would feel part of this journey toward reinvention.
Thanks to a couple of grants, and the opportunity to renovate a vacant elementary building, the ball was rolling. New staff and students joined in, and on August 19, 2015, Union High School opened with a new optimism for what could be achieved!