Fayette schools, University of Kentucky working on new high school program

jwarren@herald-leader.comSeptember 10, 2012 

A new program would allow Fayette County students to attend high school on the University of Kentucky campus and complete up to 45 hours of college credit by the time they graduate.

Details of the program, a joint venture between UK and Fayette County Public Schools, are being worked out, and a site will have to be identified on UK's campus. The Fayette school district will work with UK's College of Education to develop the program.

District officials say they hope to launch the program in fall 2013, enrolling 150 freshmen selected by lottery from the county's five high schools. Another 150 students would be added each year after that, reaching a maximum of 600, officials say.

There's no name for the program yet. But officials are using the working title of "STEAM School," referring to science, technology, engineering, arts and math courses that would be featured.

Officials say the program wouldn't actually be a separate school. Students still would be able to participate in band, sports or other extracurricular activities at their home high schools.

"We think it will appeal to students who really have that aspiration to go to college and do something," said Jack Hayes, student achievement support director for Fayette County Public Schools. "We want to be able to target first-generation students, low-income students and minority students."

The Fayette County Board of Education gave Superintendent Tom Shelton the go-ahead Monday night to work on the plan with UK. The next step would be to establish a six-member advisory committee, with three members each from the school district and the university.

"I am glad that the UK College of Education can be part of creating this new school focused on ensuring students develop the skills needed to succeed in today's global knowledge economy," said Mary John O'Hair, UK's education dean.

Officials are looking for a temporary location for the program, according to Hayes.

"We want it to be close to the College of Education because it will be a really deep partnership with the college," he said. "So that end of campus is sort of where we're looking."

The concept is generally based on the Metro High School in Columbus, Ohio. It is a joint effort by The Ohio State University; public schools in surrounding Franklin County, Ohio; and Battelle Memorial Institute, a non-profit charitable trust. Representatives from the Fayette County Public Schools have visited Metro High several times.

"Most students in the Columbus program have about 45 hours of college credit at graduation," Hayes said. "But they actually had one young lady who graduated last May with so many credit hours that she was able to enroll at Ohio State as a senior."

According to Hayes, students in the Lexington program would take regular high school courses the first two years. But those classes would be taught in creative new ways, stressing "next-generation learning," a term referring to innovative teaching methods to prepare students for a rapidly changing modern world.

"We'll be doing a lot of college readiness, a lot of support work, a lot of problem-based learning, a lot of personalized learning," Hayes said. "Students will be learning in a very different way that's going to look more like the real world of work than a high school classroom normally looks."

O'Hair said the need for "next-generation models for teaching and learning has never been greater."

"To be successful, students need to complete high school being able to think critically and creatively, collaborate globally, utilize technology effectively, solve problems independently and in groups, and perform flexibly and fluidly as situations evolve and change," O'Hair said.

After their first two years in high school, students in the program could take UK classes as juniors and seniors.

"Ideally, they would start matriculating into UK courses by junior and senior year," Hayes said. "So, in senior year when you needed that fourth math credit, ideally you'd take a UK math class to get that credit."

Jim Warren (859) 231-3255.Twitter: @heraldleader.

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