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Gadsden elementary district gets approval to open high school
SAN LUIS, Ariz. – Beginning next year, the Gadsden Elementary School District plans to offer instruction up to the 12th grade level.
That decision comes after the state Board of Education's recent approval of the district's application to operate a high school that Gadsden officials pledge will help students make an easier transition from elementary school.
"We think this is going to be something very beneficial for the students, parents and the community, because we are going to be able to give more continuity to the students from preschool through high school, at a high academic level," said Superintendent Raymond Aguilera.
In June, the Gadsden district's governing board gave the go-ahead to apply for state approval for Gadsden University Preparation High School.
Aguilera said the state board's Sept. 23 approval allows the district to begin preparing the academic curriculum, seeking funds, acquiring a site for the school, and recruiting teachers for an enrollment of about 100 students in the first year.
The district, which covers all of San Luis and neighboring Gadsden, has six elementary schools, a middle school and a junior high school. Students from the district typically go on to San Luis High School, which is part of the Yuma Union High School District.
"The difference we will have with the high school that is already here in San Luis is that we are going to concentrate more on teaching and on science, technology, engineering and math. These are programs that we already have in the higher grades in our schools, with programs such as teaching advanced mathematics and the program with Johns Hopkins University."
Aguilera was referring to a program that enables the district's best students to take college-level summer classes through Johns Hopkins.
"With a high school that the (Gadsden) district operates, we will be able to give more (educational) continuity to the high-achieving students," he said.
Aguilera said the new school plans to offer courses for college credit as well as high school-level classes.
He said the district still must determine whether the school can offer the college credit classes for free or whether it must charge a tuition for them.
"We still have various things to analyze. As to that, we will look at the possibility of getting scholarships for the students, but in reality we still have to look at what can be done."
The state's approval of the Gadsden high school application, "just means one more option for parents, who will have to decide which one is better," said Tony Badone, superintendent of YUHSD.
"I can't speak to what the Gadsden district can or cannot offer," Badone said, "but we are proud of the accomplishments of our students in San Luis, who are recognized at the national level."
She said San Luis High School currently offers programs that enable students to earn college credit hours by the time they graduate from high school. They include the Move On When Ready initiative; the Advanced Placement program, which offers students classes for dual credits at Arizona Western College, and the University of Arizona.
Badone added that 78 percent of San Luis High School's graduates continue their studies at the college level, and 84 percent of those do so in the year immediately following graduation from high school.
While school districts in Yuma and Somerton have worked in partnership with YUHSD in programs to provide better continuity in education from elementary to high school, Badone said, "the Gadsden district has always declined that offer. I respect Dr. Aguilera very much, but they have never agreed to work with us."
Next year, she added, students at San Luis High School will have the opportunity to take part in the GEAR UP, or Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, a partnership between the high school and Northern Arizona University designed to prepare them for the transition to college.
Badone said Gadsden's plans to start its own high school were known as far back as 2002, the year San Luis High School opened, but the district's voters at that time wouldn't permit it.
"I don't know what are the (Gadsden) district's reasons, whether it's to get funding, but high school education is very costly. The important thing is for parents to meet us and analyze the options."
Currently there are about 600 eighth-graders in the district who will be ready for high school in the next school year. From that number, the district will recruit about 100 to attend ninth grade at Gadsden University Preparation High School, Aguilera said.
Apart from a focus on math, science, engineering and technology, the school will offer a music program. Arts and sports programs will be added later.
Initially, classrooms at the Gadsden district's Southwest Junior High School could be used by the new high school, Aguilera said.
Within three years, the school could have an enrollment of 500, Gadsden officials estimate.