By JEROD CLAPP
They’re hoping if they build it, they’ll come. But they’re happy to be building it at all.
Clarksville Community Schools kicked off the first construction phase of their New Tech High School on Tuesday. Though hangups between the town and the school district delayed the event for a couple of months, representatives on both sides expressed their excitement for the new school.
Nick Lawrence, director of redevelopment for Clarksville, said the school doesn’t present opportunity for just the district, but the whole town.
“The Clarksville Community [Schools] Corporation is extending an innovation to our community,” Lawrence said. “The New Tech model is one that will change the landscape of educational offerings in Southern Indiana. I couldn’t be happier to have it in Clarksville in this building on Eastern Boulevard.”
The property, which was vacant for five years, was eyed by the district to house their new initiative. But disagreements on how to handle the property itself delayed the project.
Lawrence said though it took longer than anticipated, he’s glad the two entities could make the initiative a reality.
“I don’t think anybody was ever not supportive of the project. I think it was just kind of the terms of the deal and how that was going to go,” Lawrence said. “I think we’ve always been supportive of Clarksville schools and helping them grow. This project, it’s just getting from A to B was not as easy as some might think it would be.
As the August 2014 completion deadline approaches, school Board President Bill Wilson said he’s optimistic about finishing the building on time for students to begin next school year.
“We’re hearing that is going to happen,” Wilson said. “It’s just going to be a fast track. We have to start looking at staff, get the meetings with parents, educate the people and the whole community as to what this really is.”
Kim Knott, superintendent, said the first phase will only hold a freshman class of about 100 in approximately 37,000 square feet, with the addition of another class the following school year. But as the next phases are planned, the first to begin in 2016, she said the building will ultimately hold about 600 students.
She said if more than 100 students apply, they’ll have to consider several options to decide who will attend the school, including varying ideas on implementing a lottery system.
But she said as community members continue to learn about what New Tech entails, she tries to explain what it isn’t.
“This is not another Prosser, and I always use that phrase when I answer the question. It is not a vocational education school,” Knott said. “It is a high tech school; we will use technology on a regular basis. It is a school where students create problems and solve problems using that technology.”
Students will use problem-based projects to learn under the direction of teachers, but students will play a big role in determining the school’s rules and other aspects of its culture.
“It’s not for all students, but we understand it will be for many students,” Knott said. “It truly will be about teaching that engages all students, using technology that allows students to solve very complex problems in a culture that empowers them to believe that they can accomplish anything that they choose.”
Jim Bemiss, board member, said the district will also continue to play a careful balancing act in making sure its traditional high school isn’t left out of the district’s attention. He said while the district’s new advertising agency, Bandy, Carroll and Hellige, to create a message for New Tech and the district at large.
“We’ve got kids that will thrive in traditional high school and we’ve got kids that will thrive here,” Bemiss said. “It is our purpose to get each of those kids in the place where they belong. We’ll do whatever we have to do to get there.”
Wilson said after the board had visited a New Tech school in Columbus, Ind. a number of times, they hope to emulate what they’ve done quite a bit. He said if there are any ways to improve upon their model, they’ll try.
Lawrence said he’s excited to see New Tech occupy a prominent space in Clarksville, but is more excited to see what it can do for the town.
“I’ve seen the one in Columbus and taken a tour of it,” Lawrence said. “Schools like this, when they’re successful, they become a showpiece for the community. It builds a level of excitement and I think we get the benefit of taking this building a facelift, but get something that’s aesthetically pleasing and attracts people in.”