Billings School District 2 eyes charter high school

Students in Billings have embarked on their second semester, but uncertainty looms over the return to Washington Elementary. School District 2 is contemplating significant changes that may necessitate students changing schools. A recent letter outlined the potential plan, proposing the transformation of Washington into the Washington Innovative Center. This initiative aims to provide students with the opportunity to earn associate’s degrees concurrently with their high school diplomas.

However, this shift implies that Washington students will need to enroll in a new school next year. The envisioned changes include Washington becoming a charter school and establishing an Early College High School and an Opportunity School. Dr. Erwin Garcia, the district’s superintendent, highlighted the benefits of Early College High Schools, offering an additional pathway for students to pursue college and careers.

The proposed Opportunity School would focus on training in areas like computer repair, programming, cybersecurity, coding, robotics, and Artificial Intelligence. Dr. Garcia emphasized that the Washington Innovation Center would address a $4 million deficit in the elementary district. To save $1.5 million annually, students would be relocated to other elementary schools, namely Broadwater, Miles Avenue, and Newman, with assurances from Garcia that overcrowding would not be an issue.

However, not all parents of the 208 students at Washington are supportive of the idea, expressing concerns about separating their children from familiar teachers and the school’s positive environment. Dr. Garcia defended the proposal as a measure to balance the budget and meet the expectations set by the board. While acknowledging that some view it as a closure, he sees it as repurposing Washington.

During a meeting attended by over 75 individuals, mixed opinions were voiced. Some opposed the change vehemently, while others were more open to the idea, hoping it would provide children with an alternative learning experience. Dr. Garcia assured families that Broadwater, Miles Avenue, and Newman would offer quality education comparable to Washington. Despite acknowledging the deep connection some parents have with the school, he reiterated the necessity of addressing the deficit and making strategic changes.

By: Montana Newsroom staff