By Scott Hammers

The Bulletin

The construction of a new high school campus in Bend could also bring dramatic changes to Bend High School.

In May, voters approved a $268 million bond package that would fund construction of the city’s fourth high school. It’s not expected to open until 2021, and Bend-La Pine Schools has not settled on where in southeast Bend it would be built, but already the district board is working on figuring out how to best use the new space.

At issue is the district’s push to develop so-called “strand” programs, self-contained high schools intended to cater to students with a particular interest in science or art or some other narrower academic pursuit.

One option would be to locate these strand programs within the four high schools; another would be to lease private space for the strand programs. The third, and the most significant shift from how the district currently operates, would turn the existing Bend High School campus, on NE Sixth Street, into a hub for multiple strands, each with 300 to 400 students, while the newly-constructed facility would become Bend High School.

All of the strand schools would be open to students from across the district.

At a planning session for the Bend-La Pine Schools board on Tuesday, board members got a first look at what’s been learned about the three possible configurations during initial outreach efforts.

Starting shortly after the passage of the bond, Assistant Superintendent Lora Nordquist began meeting with groups of administrators, teachers, students and parents at the district’s middle and high schools, and collected input from roughly 500 people.

Participants in these focus groups did not show a clear preference for any of the three options.

Board member Julie Craig said she found it interesting that Bend High School staff were more in agreement with the idea of turning Bend High into a series of strand schools than staff at any other district school surveyed. She said that move would be the most controversial, given Bend High has developed its own culture after more than 60 years in the same building.

Board member Carrie McPherson Douglass said participants in the focus groups might have flocked to one of the three options had they had a better idea of the associated costs.

Board member Cheri Helt said she’s concerned turning Bend High into a hub for strand schools would not attract enough students to that campus to alleviate overcrowding as was promised to voters during the bond campaign.

In response, superintendent Shay Mikalson said the district would need to create enough strand options to educate 1,600 to 1,700 students at Bend High School if that option is going to work.

“If this can’t meet the capacity challenge, it’s off the table,” Mikalson said.

Beyond funds to construct a fourth high school in Bend, the bond includes millions for improvements at existing schools, including $9.5 million to upgrade instructional spaces at Bend High School.

Providing transportation to strand school students would be an additional cost under any of the three options, Nordquist said.

She said the cost of leasing space for the strand program would have to come out of the district’s general fund, and finding appropriate space could be challenging given Bend’s current commercial real estate market.

A series of community forums to consider the options and collect input from a broader cross section of the community are being planned for August and September.

— Reporter: 541-383-0387, shammers@bendbulletin.com

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