What will Baker High School become?

Consultants suggest a combination of science-math academy, international high school and/or conversion charter school options

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— Consultants retained by the Tuxedo School District presented their recommendations for the future of George F. Baker High School at a community meeting last night, saying the school’s long-term viability would be assured if the district were to adopt at least two of their three recommendations:

Become a “Science Technology Engineering Mathematics” or STEM academy;

An international high school; and/or

A conversion charter school.
Now, the final decision rests with the Tuxedo Board of Education which will review the recommendations and begin discussions later this month.

Science and technology
After the Greenwood Lake Board of Education reinstated Baker as one of the three choice options for its students last fall, the Tuxedo district retained Public Consulting Group “to provide support, educational expertise, and guidance through a process that will yield recommendations for the community’s consideration,” according to the district’s Web site.

Last night, PCG officials said creating a STEM academy would offer the district an opportunity to recruit students and build census.

“STEM includes all of the things that have to do with the real world and would be a cross-curricular way of learning,” said Tuxedo School District Superintendent Carol Lomascolo. “Within a 50 mile radius, there are no STEM academies or anything unique like this. STEM is a direction the U.S. is looking at, as is New York State. We would be the first and only one in this area with a STEM academy.”

Lomascolo felt any parent considering a STEM education option might want to choose Tuxedo if it were to create a STEM academy because “it would be a unique and a different way of learning.”

Lomascolo said the consultants felt a STEM academy would be able to be in place by this September if the board were to select this as a direction for the school.

University center high school

The second recommendation would be to partner with the New York International University Center, which opened campus along Route 17A this past March in Tuxedo, and create an international high school program.

According to its Web site, the center “is an international, higher education center dedicated to a dynamic academic experience that will enrich the lives of a global community. Through partnerships with distinguished universities and colleges, our mission is to bridge academic resources, sciences, and technology, to transform lives and cultivate the next generation of leaders.”

Current partners include Pace University, the City College of New York, the New York Institute of Technology and Brooklyn College.

An affiliation with Baker would allow for the creation of the center’s first high school program, with the idea of bringing students from locales such as Korea and China to Baker.

“There is a definite possibility in the foreseeable future to have students come here,” said Lomascolo, noting there is a detailed process to be followed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to make this happen. “We’ve spoken with districts in western New York State who already do this.”

The Town of Tuxedo, she said, has recently given the center approval to build dormitories on its campus, which could providing housing for international high school students in addition to the college students who will be based there.

This recommendation would also allow for qualified Baker students to take college classes in coordination with the center, added Lomascolo.

‘Conversion charter’

The third recommendation is for Baker to become a “conversion charter” school.

“That means that the Board of Education stays in place,” Lomascolo said. “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.”

The last two recommendations would take longer to implement with Lomascolo estimating at least a year because of the paperwork and necessary planning, should the board go with those options.

The STEM academy and conversion charter school options would allow students from other districts to attend, she said, although she did not have any details on how that process would work because the Tuxedo board has yet to select what recommendations it wants to accept.

“They (the consultants) tell us we should do two or three of these (recommendations),” said Lomascolo. “Down the road, they are estimating we will need a lottery system (for admission) because we would be so different and people would want to be coming into our doors. The important thing is that these are the recommendations and the board needs to decide what to do with these recommendations. The next steps are really to be determined by the board over the next few months.”

Up to 500 students

Lomascolo said the recommendations were based on what the Tuxedo and Greenwood Lake communities told the consultants last fall.

“The consultants have taken everyone’s input, and this gives us a direction,” she said. “The consultants are saying if we do two or three of these, their feeling is that we would be very successful. I believe what they are saying, 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, Lomascolo said, rumors still exist within the Greenwood Lake community that Baker would never be viable and would eventually close. She stressed this was not true.

“This should alleviate that fear that we have ways to build on our program and that we will have a very foreseeable future,” she said. “Hopefully that will alleviate the fears that the community has been voicing.”

Lomascolo said she was extremely excited about the options and even looked forward to building the school’s census, noting the school could accommodate up to 500 students. She also said neighboring districts should not be alarmed about Tuxedo’s plans, because there is a finite number of students who could be accepted into the program based on what the building can accommodate.

She hoped to keep the long-standing relationship with Greenwood Lake.

“It (the consultant proposal) does raise the bar, raising the academic standards of this school,” Lomascolo added, noting keeping the small school option desired by the Tuxedo and Greenwood Lake communities was important. “We wanted ‘out of the box.’ We didn’t want ‘the same old’ and something not unique to the area. That’s what they gave us.”

By Nancy Kriz

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