I wanted to point out a column written by CST editor Chad Baldwin today about new high schools. Baldwin, my former boss and the guy who, in the end, allows me to continue working for the Star-Tribune on a freelance basis, scratches the surface of the issue well… but I disagree with him on one point:
There is no reason for Gillette to open a new school until Cheyenne and Casper do so first. Cheyenne did what I think was the right thing and got us halfway there; Casper, in short, messed up, not only for Casper but in part for Gillette, too.
As Baldwin’s editorial pointed out, the problems that popped up when Casper started talking about a new high school (or what ended up happening, a new building that holds all the programs the other schools can’t or won’t take…) basically crushed any hope of a third comprehensive high school in the city for decades to come. Chief among those problems was the school of choice option that exists in Casper; several others, including groupthink, inter-community speculation and paranoia, administrator bonus pay, conflicting goals within the district hierarchy and a desire to maintain ultra-competitive sports programs, gave Casper a new high school building without giving it a new high school.
One of the problems with the new school setup in Casper is the way the Natrona County School District reached this point. The new campus is classic design by committee; it satisfies everyone, therefore, it satisfies no one. When (not if) this new setup creates more new problems than it answers old, no one can take the blame. I guess that’s good if you’re playing CYA, but that shouldn’t be what education is about.
Obviously, more than athletics considerations went into this decision, and I don’t pretend to be an expert on school construction, funding and budgeting. But Cheyenne made it work. Casper didn’t make anything — it ended up with something.
There are many repercussions from what has happened in Casper, and athletics — not only in Casper, but statewide — will feel those repercussions for at least the next three decades. Because of this decision, I think it will be at least that long before a third comprehensive high school opens in Casper. And even though Gillette and Casper are two distinct communities with different funding, different priorities and different goals, I now think it will be at least that long before a second full-on high school in Gillette opens.
The benefits both communities would have by opening new high schools would mostly be felt in the activities arena: more teams, more spots. Maybe, probably, this means fewer championships. That has been the sticking point in many discussions, whether it’s better to have championship-caliber teams from a deeper talent pool or competitive teams from a shallower talent pool. However, new high schools in Gillette and Casper would give most of the large high schools in the state a “pool” that’s about the same depth — something that benefits every school, not just the schools in Gillette and Casper.
I think it is tougher for a community to go from one high school to two than it is to go from two to three. In that regard, Gillette arguably has a tougher decision to add a new high school than Casper does. It makes sense for Gillette to wait for other Wyoming communities to take the lead.
Cheyenne took that lead. Casper didn’t follow. Now Gillette won’t — and probably shouldn’t — sacrifice its one-school setup.
Now, barring a sudden population surge, we’ll have to wait until 2040 to revisit this again.
And, because of how the Natrona County School District made this decision, there’s no one to thank. Or blame.
–patrick (mad props to my wife Char for the graphic)