The Natrona County School District tried for nearly a decade to promote problem- and project-based programs to link practical skills and academic subjects, but the results weren't satisfactory.

Monday, the district's board of trustees asked high school principals to plan to phase out the Star Lane Centers at Kelly Walsh and Natrona County high schools, and the Roosevelt school program at the Pathways Innovation Center, or P.I.C., which opened last year in west Casper.

It wasn't an easy decision.

It even hurt, trustee Rita Walsh said. "I feel a little bad."

She was on the board when the district began the problem-based and project-based programs, such as teaching academic subjects such as math and English through learning practical skills such as welding and cooking.

But a sobering analysis of test scores from 2015-2017 showed students for the most part in these programs were not meeting the academic performance levels based on ACT standardized high school achievement tests results for mathematics, reading, science, and English and writing.

Surveys of students and parents indicated they were not showing an increased interest in those programs.

Likewise, the number of students selecting those programs was either flat or decreasing.

However, the surveys indicated many parents and students were satisfied with their experiences at the Pathways Innovation Center.

The P.I.C.'s Assistant Principal Ron Estes said efforts of district and high school administrators, teachers and students deserve credit.

The trustees complimented the work of Walt Wilcox, who crunched the test scores and other data, as well as the tough call of the principals to reconsider the project-based and problem-solving programs.

The programs were not failures.

District board Chairman Kevin Christopherson defended the programs. For example, he took a welding class when he attended Kelly Walsh High School and still uses those skills, he said.

Natrona County High School Principal Shannon Harris said it has helped some students stay in school because they could learn skills for the workplace.

The board will look at keeping some programs at the P.I.C. including advanced art, photography, welding, construction and auto mechanics.

Other courses will transfer to Kelly Walsh and Natrona County high schools including advanced film and television, agriculture and internship programs.

The district also wants to support certification programs such as those for engine repair, certified nursing assistants, and first aid.

Meanwhile, the core academic programs at P.I.C. will be revised and reviewed for possible pairing with the practical skills.

Harris and Roosevelt Principal Shawna Trujillo said the project-based and problem-based programs did not sufficiently teach the fundamental academic skills of math, language and science.

Without the basics of understanding English, students may not be able to understand a text manual, Trujillo said. "Teachers need to be teaching at depth."

She said the planning to phase out the programs needs to begin now to deal with the logistics of where students will go in the 2018-2019 academic year.


We will follow up this story with reactions from parents, students and teachers who spoke against the proposed phase-out of the Star Lane Center during the school district's board of trustees meeting Monday night.