With a bold look to the future, Tuxedo may have not only created a solution for the long-term viability of its high school, but positioned the town as a beacon for higher education. The Tuxedo Union Free School District held an open forum last week in which the district’s consultant presented its finding on the future of the school, and the recommendations for George F. Baker High School called for a dynamic repositioning of the high school.
“We wanted out of the box,” said Tuxedo School District Superintendent Carol Lomascolo. “That’s what they (Public Consulting Group) gave us. It does raise the bar, raising the academic standards of this school,” Lomascolo said, referring to the recommendations by the school district’s consultant.
The whole Tuxedo school saga started when Greenwood Lake School District decided to end its exclusive relationship with George F. Baker last year. Greenwood Lake does not have a high school of its own and district kids have attended George Baker for the past 30 years. The Greenwood Lake School Board opened bidding from other school districts, with the final result being a program called Parental Choice, where GWL students entering 9th grade in the 2013 school year have the choice to attend one of three available high schools — Warwick Valley High School, Chester Academy or George F. Baker.
GWL students represent nearly 85% of students currently attending George Baker. GWL will release student decision numbers later next week in terms of how many students chose Warkwick, Chester and Tuxedo for the fall session.
With PCG’s latest recommendations, the Tuxedo superintendent suggested that rumors about the possible near-death of George Baker are premature. The new direction the high school is entertaining could make Tuxedo a preferred educational destination, drawing students from other districts as well as internationally. Lomascolo said that George Baker could accommodate up to 500 students and that space limitations would determine the number of students who could be accepted into future programs.
The PCG presentation gave three distinct but interconnected options for George Baker, options that would not only galvanize attention and attract new high school age students to the school, but position the school as an attractive academy of learning.
During Thursday’s open forum at George F. Baker auditorium, PCG stressed the success and long-term viability of the high school if it were to adopt at least two of their three recommendations, which are:
* Establish GFBHS as a Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics or STEM Academy;
* Apply to become a conversion charter school; and/or
* Invite participation of New York International University Center (NYIUC), which would allow for the creation of the center’s first high school program and give Tuxedo students the opportunity to take college classes in coordination with the center.
“The consultants are saying if we do two or three of these, their feeling is that we would be very successful,” Lomascolo was quoted as saying in a recent Photo-News article by Nancy Kriz. “I absolutely believe this is a unique opportunity and gives us a long-term plan and sets us apart from surrounding districts. I do believe what they are saying, that we will be turning people away in a few years, based on their recommendations.”
Currently there are no STEM academies within a 50 mile radius of George F. Baker. If acted on, each of the three options would open up George Baker to students from other districts, keep the school as a small, dynamic high school and integrate STEM and NYIUC curriculum as part of the school’s arts and humanities studies — essentially creating schools within a school that offer specialized classes. All of the options presented would also afford George Baker additional federal and state funding opportunities.
With each of the options, or a mix of all three, Tuxedo high school students would be provided flexible, dynamic educational opportunities that they could tailor to their interests and needs. What the school may lose in numbers of GWL students, it might make up in becoming a beacon to other students who want to attend a cutting-edge high school that offers a unique accelerated curriculum.
Depending on which option George Baker decides to incorporate, the school would focus on different planning and state guidelines. Converting the school to a STEM academy could take place as early as September, while converting to a charter school would take more time as it would involve steering through NY State’s qualifying process.
PCG’s recommendations are currently under review by the Tuxedo school board, which is waiting for additional community feedback. A final meeting is set for February 6, in which community questions will be addressed, after which, the board will make its final decision on the future direction of the high school.
Lomascolo said the charter option would keep the current board intact. “It’s a public school that has chosen to convert to a charter school. The unions and teachers stay in place and we follow the guidelines of a charter school,” Lomascolo said. STEM and UYIUC options might include the addition of faculty with more specialized accreditation.
Tuxedo parents can submit questions related to PCG’s new recommendations, which will be answered during a two-session open forum at George F. Baker High School Auditorium on Wednesday, February 6 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Thereafter, the Tuxedo Union Free School Board will convene to make its decision on school options. Please visit Tuxedo Union Free District website for more information.