High school

Consider the possibilities

Amidst public concerns that the work of designing and building a new high school will detract from the work of educating students, Re-1 is launching an ambitious project.

The worries certainly are valid. Any person or group of people asked to take on time-consuming new responsibilities must determine which parts of their original job must be done by them, which can be delegated, and which can be set aside, at least temporarily. After years of budget cuts, the district has fewer people to whom duties can be delegated, and non-essential tasks have long been pared away.

Yet the process of figuring out what the new building should include shouldn't be considered separate from the educational duties of Re-1 administration, faculty, staff, from the needs of current students or, for that matter, from the responsibilities of the community Re-1 serves.

It's easy to defend a school as being good enough for today's students because it was good enough for students of a prior generation. (Whether it actually ever was is a topic no longer worth discussing, although it's fair to point out that from the very first year the current M-CHS building was occupied, students complained about significant temperature problems.) It's tempting, when someone else is paying more than half of the bill, to want to add details, or perhaps even big features, that otherwise would be out of the question in a cash-strapped community.

Somewhere in the middle is the high school building that Re-1 really needs.

Community members will have plenty of opportunity to share their ideas - not that they can't dial up the administration office nearly every weekday of the year. They'll be able to specify what's important to them and what they believe to be unnecessary or frivolous. They'll get a chance to connect the building to the community's values.

That's not as easy as it sounds, because this building must be designed for an unforeseeable future.

Educators, perhaps more than nearly anyone else, are aware of the changes Cortez has experienced since the mid-1960s, when the current high school was on the drawing board. The landscape looks the same. The economy has ebbed and flowed. The student body has changed, and the challenges those students face have grown.

Reading, writing and math are still vitally important, but learning them is no longer enough, if it ever was. Students must be taught skills they can't learn while sitting in rows of desks facing a teacher who lectures and writes on a chalkboard. They'll need to be able to perform - not just talk about, but actually do - tasks that today are unimaginable. Above all, they'll need to know how to learn new skills, because the speed at which knowledge grows and changes is accelerating. Our children need to be adaptable, able to think on their feet, and equipped with enough successes that they dare to tackle new challenges. That's the kind of learning that must take place in this new school building.

It's important to identify current impediments so we don't import them to the new building, and that requires listening to some complaints. It's important to recognize that some students still will want to enter traditional occupations, some will want to dive headfirst into the outside world, and some will have no idea what they want to do but must be able to depend on their school to keep their options open.

Now is the time to dream big and listen to the dreams of others. That doesn't mean ignoring systemic issues; it means considering possibilities that, until Re-1 voters said yes to the bond issue, were distant dreams indeed.