Prior to the 2010s, Wyoming had added just two new public, comprehensive high schools since the addition of Kelly Walsh High School in Casper in 1967: Wyoming Indian in the 1970s and Wright in the 1980s.
Two new high schools, though, opened (or are scheduled to open) this decade — Cheyenne South in 2010 and Thunder Basin in Gillette in 2017.
That raises an interesting question: Will we continue to see more new high schools in Wyoming? And if so, where?
For now, my speculation is that Wyoming is done with new high schools for quite a while. No communities have expressed the immediate need or the desire to add a 9-12 facility.
Still, regardless of timing, here are some suspects to think about for the location of the next new high school in the state:
Casper. We’ve been over this before: Casper probably won’t get a new high school for the next three decades. Too many people have too great an investment in making this Pathways (formerly CAPS) program work. A few years ago, there was also talk of making Roosevelt High in Casper a regular high school as opposed to an alternative school. That proposal included athletics programs. However, I haven’t seen that build any steam recently. And, to boot, Roosevelt students will be housed in the Pathways building. Maybe by 2040, when the Pathways building needs a remodel and can be retrofitted to become a standalone high school, we’ll see that third high school. Until then, I’m pessimistic.
Rock Springs. With Thunder Basin’s opening, Rock Springs now has the largest 9-12 enrollment of any town in the state with only one high school. Given the enrollment history in Rock Springs, it will probably be 50 years before it will be ready for another high school, if ever. Unless we get a worldwide trona boom… then, watch out!
LaBarge. The community 20 miles south of Big Piney is just on the Lincoln County side of the Lincoln/Sublette County border — which leads to an arrangement where, as I understand it, Lincoln County pays Sublette County for educating the children who journey from LaBarge to Big Piney for their schooling. The K-5 LaBarge Elementary is where LaBarge students start before moving on to Big Piney for their middle- and high-school education. But LaBarge is big enough to have its own high school, and has been for a while now. LaBarge High would be about the same size as nearby Farson and would be a natural fit in the 1A Southwest. I can’t for the life of me figure out why LaBarge hasn’t had its own high school all these years…. Maybe some folks in Sublette/Lincoln counties can fill me in as to why this hasn’t been done already.
Wamsutter. The K-8 Desert School in Wamsutter supports students for nine years, before the students start to travel the 40 miles from Wamsutter to Rawlins, one-way, to finish their schooling. The once-booming extraction community has slowed its roll recently, though. There was talk a few years ago about Wamsutter adding a high school, but with the decline in extraction industries, Wamsutter’s long-term hopes for a high school aren’t as strong as they were a few years ago. If it opened now, Wamsutter High would only have about 20 students — more than Glendo and Chugwater but fewer than every other athletics-sponsoring high school in the state.
Thayne. This is pure speculation. But it’s based in some existing infrastructure. For grades 4-12, Star Valley students all attend the same schools, but for grades K-3, about half the students in the valley go to Afton Elementary and the other half go to Thayne Elementary. A split on the Afton-Thayne line, if extended from the K-3 level to the K-12 level, could give Star Valley two separate high schools of about equal size, 350-400 students each. Star Valley covers a lot of area — it’s 40 miles from Alpine to Smoot — so maybe a second high school would work. But I think it would take a huge influx of students for anyone in Star Valley to consider splitting up a system that’s worked for a century.
Wilson. Again, more speculation along the western border. But, again, it’s based in what exists. Wilson — six miles west of Jackson — has its own K-5 elementary. Those enrollment numbers show Wilson would be capable of supporting a mid-sized 2A school on its own. However, its proximity to Jackson makes this really unlikely.
Rozet. Technically, it’s 15 miles from Rozet to Gillette, but most of the students who attend Rozet live west of the school — closer to the east edge of Gillette than to Rozet. Right now, Rozet is basically an eastern Gillette elementary. But it’s fun to think that the Mustangs of old (the high school closed in 1958) could rise from the ashes to be a high school of about 200 students, based on its elementary enrollment, and natural rivalries in geography and size could develop with nearby Moorcroft and Newcastle. That’d be fun. But unlikely.
Somewhere in eastern Laramie County. The history of schooling in Eastern Laramie County — east of Cheyenne — is based on consolidation. Egbert High School shut down in 1958; Hillsdale High closed in 1969; Carpenter High closed its doors in 1971; Albin, the last comprehensive Wyoming high school to close, shut down in 2003. However, Carpenter and Albin held onto their elementary schools… and based on this breakdown I did in 2014 of current elementary enrollment, if Carpenter and Albin re-opened, the four high schools (Burns, Pine Bluffs, Carpenter and Albin) could each support decent 9-12 populations — about 132 in Burns, about 81 in Pine Bluffs, about 55 in Carpenter and about 42 in Albin. That would be a blast. For now, though, tight budgets and relatively small distances (11 miles from Carpenter to Burns, 18 miles from Albin to Pine Bluffs) keep LCSD No. 2 at two high schools. And then there’s the historical precedent: No Wyoming high school that has closed has EVER been re-opened.
Cheyenne or Gillette. Actually, Cheyenne might get a fourth high school and Gillette a third before anyone else gets a first or second. I think Casper’s third would come before Gillette’s third or Cheyenne’s fourth. Even so, Cheyenne in particular could be ready for a new school in, oh, another 50 years. That’s the pace it has set: One new high school every 50 years. East in 1960, South in 2010… Who’s ready for Cheyenne North in 2060?
What Wyoming town do you think will be the next to build a new high school? And when do you think it will be? Leave a comment and let’s speculate.