Fowler High School will begin fading away this fall, but students will be able to choose education paths for public-service jobs with its replacement.
“I think it’s something good,” Bob Gardino, a retired teacher and former president of advocacy group Parents for Public Schools, said. “The students will choose pathways that will lead to careers.”
The change is a response to Fowler’s continued failure to meet state requirements. Fowler High School is labeled as a “priority school” by the state department of education. “Priority Schools are the persistently lowest-achieving in state,” Jeanne Beattie, a spokeswoman for the state department, said in an email interview.
New York state designates the lowest-performing five percent of its schools as “priority schools.” Across the state, 18 districts with about 220 schools are labeled priority schools, which are schools that could be forced to close or change dramatically if they don’t improve. Syracuse has 19 of those priority schools, including Fowler High School, Hughes Elementary and Delaware Elementary schools.
Fowler High School will begin to fade out this September by not replacing its ninth-graders. Instead, the Public Service Leadership Academy will start its first year this fall with a class of 300 ninth-graders. The academy is open to students all over the district.
For the new academy, students will apply to attend the new programs. Superintendent Sharon Contreras has said the application process is to gauge if students are truly interested. If more than 300 students apply, a lottery will choose the 300 students who will attend. Applications open on May 1, and interviews will be held as well, according to the proposal by the Syracuse City School District.
Students who would have gone to Fowler will choose among the other high schools in the district.
The Syracuse school board voted unanimously on April 16 to phase out Fowler, which will cease to exist by 2017. Over the next four years, Fowler will graduate one grade, and the academy will add one.
Fowler and the new academy will have separate principals and will be housed in the same building that Fowler is in now. The additional staff, including the new teachers will cost over $1 million, according to the proposal. There will not be any layoffs as Fowler phases out and the new Public Service Leadership Academy phases in, said Michael Henesey, coordinator of communications for the school district, in an email interview.
Members of the community, including Chief of Police Frank Fowler and members of Homeland Security, were involved with developing the plan and have been supportive of it, education advocate and retired teacher Gardino said.
Fowler is in dire need of change, Gardino said. And with the new school, students would be on the road to getting a two or four year degree.
In a press release, Superintendent Contreras said that students who succeed at the academy could earn an associate’s degree or up to two years of college credit. This is all part of a larger plan to provide more options to “prepare all students to be career and college ready,” said Contreras in a press release on the Syracuse City School District website.
The plan detailed phasing out Fowler High School gives students four academies and several educational tracks to specialize in:
- First Responder Academy: including work in law enforcement, fire rescue and emergency technician. As part of the First Responder Academy, students would be able to train at the Public Safety Training Center at Onondaga Community College, according to the proposal for the academy.
- Homeland Security Academy: including work in computer forensics, cybersecurity and geospatial intelligence, which analyzes images that depict physical features of the earth.
- Military Service Academy: including work in Navy JROTC and emergency preparedness
- Entrepreneurial Academy: Cosmetology/barbering and electrical trades
The academy would partner with Bryant & Stratton College, State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Onondaga Community College, Rural Metro Emergency Services, according to the school district’s proposal.
For students at Fowler who continue to struggle, they will have access to Syracuse University tutors, the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection Youth Advocates, by partnering students with a youth to serve as a role model and mentor, and the Twilight Academy, which allows students to take classes in the afternoon to earn credit, according to a newsletter from the school district.
(Caroline Strange is a junior with dual majors in broadcast and digital journalism and anthropology with a minor in political science.)