Proposals for two new public schools in Tacoma include a combined middle and high school focused on physical fitness, nutrition and health, and a high school that would offer specialized programs in industrial design, engineering and art.
Details on each proposal were submitted last week to the Tacoma School Board, which earlier this year asked for new ideas to add to the district’s portfolio of innovative schools. Board members are interested in new programs for the city’s East Side and South End, where fewer such programs exist.
Both proposals were developed by experienced Tacoma educators, and neither would require construction of a new building. Both would be magnet schools drawing students citywide.
The idea for Healthy, Nurturing, Training-Minds Academy comes from Jennifer Kubista, the district’s director of student life, Christy Brandt, Jason Lee Middle School principal, and Josh Brandt, a physical education teacher at two Tacoma elementary schools. (The Brandts are married.)
HNT Academy would have a projected enrollment of 1,050.
The other school would be called IDEA, an acronym for its main focus areas. Jon Ketler, founder of Tacoma School of the Arts and the Science and Math Institute, is the lead proponent for the school, which would borrow many of the concepts that have made SOTA and SAMI popular with students.
IDEA is projected to enroll 575 students.
The School Board plans to decide in late June whether to move forward with the proposals. IDEA hopes to open by fall 2016, while HNT Academy targets a fall 2017 launch.
The academy isn’t aimed at building super-jocks or elite sports teams, said Christy Brandt, a former science and health teacher.
In fact, the school wouldn’t have traditional sports teams. Rather, HNT kids would come to the academy for their regular school day, but could join sports teams at the middle or high school closest to where they live.
“It’s about teaching lifelong fitness,” Brandt said.
HNT would include adaptive physical education for special education students, as well as physical activities and nutrition education aimed at combating childhood obesity.
The academy would offer a wider variety of fitness and health classes than those found in typical schools. An extended school day would allow time for extra academic help and extra physical activity time, with a goal of three daily physical activity times.
Brandt said research turned up schools in New York and Chicago with a similar focus, but she’s not aware of any in the Puget Sound region. She also said that if the school is approved, she would hope to remain as principal of Jason Lee and take on a leadership role at the academy.
HNT’s school day would run from roughly 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with some teachers working an earlier schedule and others staying late.
Brandt points to recent medical research about the positive effects of physical activity on brain function. “When you get kids active and moving around, their behavior changes, their focus changes,” she said.
The HNT team looked at several possible locations, including three closed buildings: Gault Middle School and McKinley Elementary on Tacoma’s East Side, and Hunt Middle School in the West End. They also note that Gray Middle School in South Tacoma is near the Metro Parks Star Center, while Foss High School in central Tacoma would offer access to playing fields and Metro Parks facilities. Brandt said if those sites were chosen, the district would determine how HNT would co-exist with the schools.
Partnerships with agencies such as the YMCA and Metro Parks would allow HNT to offer traditional sports such as swimming and basketball, but also alternatives such as fencing and martial arts, plus water aerobics and weight training. Local health care partners could offer nutrition and health instruction, as well as internships for high school students.
This school would resemble SOTA and SAMI in philosophy, structure and schedule, but would offer a distinct curriculum, including computer science.
“This new school would be about industrial design and design engineering, what good design looks like from an art perspective and how everyday things are developed,” said Kristen Tinder, co-director of SAMI.
Ideas borrowed from SAMI and SOTA include block scheduling, which offers longer class periods taught in a Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday rotation. Block scheduling and a longer school day allow students to take eight subjects instead of the traditional six. On Fridays, students would gather with mentoring and advisory groups or for special topics workshops.
IDEA would also borrow the SOTA/SAMI concept of using community resources — in this case the auto, industrial design and manufacturing industries in Tacoma.
Admission to IDEA would be based on the same computer lottery system used at SAMI and SOTA. Each middle school region of the city is allotted seats based on its share of the school district’s total middle school population.
Tinder said IDEA would employ adjunct faculty — working professionals who would teach one or two in-depth classes in one of the IDEA fields. These guest teachers would work with certificated district teachers.
Tinder said SOTA and SAMI collectively are able to enroll only about half of the nearly 700 students who apply. IDEA advocates hope it would offer another small, focused alternative learning experience for Tacoma students.
One potential location is the district’s Park Avenue Center in Tacoma’s South End.