ELKHART — With Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial high schools planning to merge into one Elkhart High School, the countdown is on, and school officials are offering a timeline to help alleviate any confusion.
The 2019-20 school year will be the final year that Central and Memorial operate as separate high schools, with upcoming seniors being the last graduating class of their respective campuses.
Elkhart High School will operate as one high school beginning in the fall of 2020, but at two campuses, meaning students in Grades 9-12 will remain at their current high school locations during the 2020-21 school year.
Despite still being on two campuses, the district’s athletic programs will merge into one. The high school’s mascot is the Lion and the school colors are royal blue and gold.
Seniors at both campuses will continue to graduate at different locations but will be considered graduates of Elkhart High School.
The 2021-22 school year will serve as a transitional year for the high school.
That’s when all construction will be completed and Elkhart High School will serve students in grades 10 through 12 at Memorial’s current campus, at 2608 California Road. Students in Grade 9 will attend the freshman division at Central’s current campus at One Blazer Blvd.
At this time, the district will hold graduation for all seniors at the same location.
‘Model of the high school’
The new Elkhart High School is comprised of six schools of study within one high school: Arts and communication; business and international relations; engineering, technology and industry; health and public safety; human services; and natural resources.
Multiple college and career pathways exist within each school of study. Students will attend the freshman division then select a pathway as they enter their sophomore year.
Each school of study has its own physical location on the high school campus as well as its own administrative and instructional team. Buildings are being customized to meet the needs of each school, Elkhart Community Schools officials said.
Dual credit opportunities are available to students in all schools of study.
Elkhart Memorial Principal Cary Anderson, who will serve as the new high school’s executive principal, said the vision behind the unified Elkhart High School is to ensure that students are college- and career-ready after they graduate.
“We want to change the way our kids learn at Elkhart Community Schools,” Anderson said. “And we’re going to do that by seeing what kids are interested in and then we are going to tailor the education around that, rather than the other way around.”
Superintendent Steve Thalheimer said the program will keep students engaged and focused on their futures.
“For example, instead of kids’ reading about things that they have no interest in, at least tangentially or directionally there will be things that connect to their interest and broaden their perspectives within that discipline, so they will know what they truly want to do after they leave high school,” he said.
The schools of study will be fully implemented in the fall of 2021 when the high school renovations are complete.
‘Community and business engagement’
Currently, each school of study is comprised of a design team lead by transition principals.
The design teams are developing pathways, curriculum and infrastructure in partnership with the community and relevant industry partners to enhance the relevance of the curriculum for each school of study.
A critical aspect of this work is the involvement of community and business partners in developing authentic projects, course work, internships, apprenticeships and job shadowing, officials said.
Once the full implementation of this model begins in the fall of 2021, each school of study will have an advisory board consisting of community partners to allow for continued input, interaction and evaluation of the curriculum and course offering.
“These teams of partners will not only help provide learning experiences for the students but also the staff, and I think that’s a going to really be important for our success,” Anderson said.
‘Feedback from the students and community’
The $33 million plan to consolidate the two high schools was approved by the school board in 2016.
The decision has gotten mixed reviews over the years. School officials say they believe some in the community are still unclear about why the program is consolidating.
“I think initially some of the reason behind what we’re doing and the vision is still unclear, and when we share our story, we usually hear, ‘Oh, I get it.’ That’s the feedback we get,” Anderson said.
To prepare students, Anderson said, “We’re going to do a grassroots (process) during the first semester of trying to go to different buildings – elementary and middle schools – to share what we’re doing, our vision.”
For some of the students, the idea of the unified high school is already starting to sink in, said Bradley Sheppard, assistant superintendent of instruction.
According to Sheppard, students from Pierre Moran Middle School did presentations last year for a culminated project in which they discussed the next steps in their academic journey.
In doing so, many mentioned how they would be a graduate of the new Elkhart High School, Sheppard said.
“So it’s already sinking into the minds of these middle-schoolers who know that when they graduate, they’re not going to be Memorial or Central graduates, but graduates of Elkhart High School with their new mascot,” he said.
Thalheimer, who has a superintendent’s advisory group at both high schools, said students of both groups are speaking highly of the thought going into the process of the merger.
“They seem to appreciate the fact that education is going to be a little more tailored to their interest,” he said, “and they’re going to be able to identify those schools of study and getting kids on those pathways, which then aligns better with graduation requirements.”
For more information or updates on the merger, visit elkhart.k12.in.us/home/schools/elkhart-high-school.
2020-21: Elkhart High School will operate as one school, while students in grades 9-12 remain at Central and Memorial campuses.
2021-22: Students in grades 10-12 will move to Elkhart High School, Memorial’s current campus, and those in grade 9 will be in the freshman division, Central’s campus.