For many families, school transitions create stress. Visits to schools, taking tours, observing clubs and teams, and shadowing an existing student all help reduce the unknowns. But for families contemplating the new Northfield High School (NHS), scheduled to open for the 2015 school year, those options aren’t available. Students and families are taking a leap into the unknown.
Principal Avi Tropper says he has met with about 1,000 students at schools and other gatherings, explaining the mission and program of the school and answering questions. For some families that’s enough…they’re fully committed to the new program. Kathy Epperson, a Stapleton parent who has helped with planning the new high school and has attended many of the forums, says she knows of families who are not even visiting other schools. “We have not failed yet creating a new school…I can’t see people letting it fail. The more that people get involved and help shape the school and support it, I think we can’t help but be successful with it.” Epperson says families with 4th and 5th graders have been attending the high school informational forums and she thinks they will get involved and support the new high school even before their kids get there.
Other families are still assessing whether a small new school or a bigger established program might be a better fit. Parents of 8th graders who are longtime Stapleton residents have been educational pioneers, opening new programs at each step of the way. One of those pioneers, Kari Cummings, says, “Opening a new school is a daunting task…No matter how great the organization and planning there are just many unforeseen things. Those things often lead to a less than stellar experience for students and parents.” For Cummings that experience led her to ask a lot of questions about the new high school program.
Knowing how much effort it takes to get extracurricular programs off the ground, Cummings is concerned that without the momentum of existing clubs, intramurals and social activities that are perpetuated by older student leaders, there may be few activities in the first few years. Tropper says, “Based on surveys of students who will be in the founding class, I have already identified some clubs that there seems to be a lot of interest around.” He explains he is building partnerships with organizations that can help put logistics in place and bring in older students from leadership programs to act as mentors as the younger students are getting the clubs off the ground.
Jason Keller, who has sons entering 6th and 9th grades next year, says a key factor in their upcoming move from Lowry to Stapleton is schools—and he and his son are excited about the pioneering role of the first class at the new school.
Start time and length of school day
Another of Cummings’ concerns is about start time and length of day. Will the late start leave students too little time at night for homework after extracurricular activities? Tropper says the school day is 8:45am to 4:45pm and the start time “is based on a ton of research that says this is in the best interest of adolescents.” He adds that most of the reason for the longer day is the daily physical activity requirement—and it’s based on the premise that daily physical activity supports academic learning. For students on athletic teams, the physical activity time will be combined with sports practice, reducing the length of time those practices extend after school.
For parents who have been part of school sports and leagues with structures in place to perpetuate the teams, it may be disconcerting to be without those structures—or to adjust to a different kind of structure.
Lacrosse coach Scott Peterson, whose oldest child will be a 6th grader next year, says he’s interested in making sure the school has coaches and programs in place to support the kids who are coming up. Peterson says, “We have the opportunity to hand them a championship caliber lacrosse team almost from its inception…I want to do everything I can to support that initiative within Northfield High School and help Avi any way I can.” But he’s puzzled that no athletic director is being hired.
Tropper points out that a school population of 275 students places limitations on the number of staff that can be hired. He says changes in staffing may evolve over time, but at least in the early years, the operations manager will handle sports scheduling, budgets and use of facilities, and a student support coordinator will handle eligibility. He will personally hire the coaches.
“Given that coaches are interacting with students, it’s important to me that I’m looking at who those people are and how they’re interacting with students. I want to make sure that the same characteristics, the same abilities, the same skills, the same way of interacting with students that I want to see in classroom teachers, we see that on the athletics field as well.”
Tropper points out that just as he’s not an expert in physics or biology, he’s not an expert in athletics. But he will be hiring the best experts he can find for both coaches and teachers.
Tropper is requiring a 2.8 grade point average, higher than the 2.0 minimum set by the Colorado High School Athletic Association (CHSAA). “The base CHSAA level requirements are not even sufficient to play for a Division 1 team. For the vast majority of students to prepare them for life, for careers, they are going to need to rely on their academic skills and abilities.”
Tropper is currently working with a group of soccer experts to develop the soccer program and he plans to use that as a model for developing other teams. He says they will offer whatever sports have enough students to form a team. A proposed list of teams based on surveys of student interest is posted on the high school’s website.
Jason Keller is part of the soccer advisory group. He’s excited and optimistic and thinks they have the right pieces in place for an excellent soccer program. They have put together an advisory group with a high level of expertise (including a partnership with the Rapids). The advisory group is creating an agreed-upon list of expectations and outcomes for a successful program. They have agreed upon the qualifications and process for hiring a coach (which will be carried out over the next few months). And, Keller says, they are creating a great partnership between the athletic program and the school. He believes that with the right environment for academics and for sports, and the right coaching, all the kids are going to do better and they will have a great program.
Keller acknowledges there will be some scenarios where kids are struggling academically but are really doing well athletically. “We need to help and manage them through that process and not lose that kid. Avi understands when those situations come up, we’ll work closely.”
All NHS students will participate in the International Baccalaureate curriculum. Visit Northfield.dpsk12.org and choose the link to the 2015-2016 Program Guide for an in-depth look at the academic curriculum. NHS is the boundary school for all Stapleton residents and a portion of East Park Hill. In addition 35% of seats will be available for students from far northeast Denver.
The school is expected to be an Innovation School, pending a vote by the teachers at the beginning of the school year. For more information about the school call 303.842.1101.