A working group within the Board of Trustees is exploring the potential of a specific, unnamed campus site for adding a long-rumored high school to Sequoyah. The concept of adding a high school has been in development for many years, and the site in consideration has just become available. Still to be worked out are the feasibility of a site, its timing and financing.
In the early 1990s, Hannah McLaren, director of Sequoyah School at the time, and Sarah Star former Junior High teacher came up with the idea of a Sequoyah High School and together, put together the first ever Sequoyah High School Proposal. It wasn’t the right time then for many practical reasons. Sequoyah was much smaller of a school in the 1990’s so such obstacles as finances for a high school were hard to overcome, according to Director of Sequoyah School, Josh Brody.
Though previous attempts were abandoned, the goal of a high school remained in the school’s strategic plan, according to Brody. The strategic plan is a guide for the school to follow throughout the 5-6 years the strategic plan is accommodating. The strategic plan is put together by administration, teachers, alumni, current parents, alumni parents, other community members, and a hired outside consultant who has experience facilitating strategic planning.
Finding a suitable campus site would be the first step in executing the plan. Any site proposal must be brought to the board an d passed with a vote. Brody said, “a lot of what we really have to understand, related to the high school, is the site. Where it would be, how that would work, the logistics, cost.” The site identified by administrators has a window of availability in the near future, but the school leadership has not released further details.
Depending on what the site would allow, Brody said, the school would initially include only a 9th and 10th grade, with a target class size of around 50 per grade, then growing to include the upper high school grades and perhaps 80 students per grade level, for an eventual addition to the school of around 320 students.
Sequoyah’s primary interest in creating a high school, according to Brody, is to extend the Sequoyah experience throughout the entire pre-college education, offering families the value of a progressive education from grades K–12. “I believe very strongly that there are great things that happen at Sequoyah,” Brody said. “It would be really exciting to see those things extend into a high school as well.” Brody also believes that there would be benefits in parental commitment as a result of decreased pressure and anxiety surrounding the prospect of high school. “If you’re a parent and you have a place where you know your kid is going to be all the way up until college, you invest more in a place as a family,” he said.
Brody also believes a high school would strengthen the school’s financial status and reputation over time. “Sometimes when you have a bigger school, more people, more tuition coming in, more families, and more capability to support the school, a bigger school can have a more powerful impact on the community’s opinion,” said Josh. Adding a high school could possibly help Sequoyah’s current position relating to buying our campus.
The High School Committee is made up of trustees, administrators, alumni, and parents. Teachers have been asked for their input, and will become more involved as a site becomes a reality. “This group gets together, and they think, okay what would a sequoyah high school look like, where would it be, what are the different issues… the strategic plan says that the Sequoyah High School Committee will be exploring possible sites and trying to develop a plan for the high school,” said Josh.
According to Brody, the new high school would extend the unique values of the current school. “There are lots of great schools in Pasadena,” he said, referring to other high schools. “I went to Poly, but I think that those high schools are different than what we imagine a Sequoyah high school would look like. To me Sequoyah is different.” The new school would be guided by the current “Habits of Mind,” and its programs would also aim to create strong relationships between students and teachers along with an integrated community across age levels. “Camping would still be important to the Sequoyah 9-12,” said Brody. “We would certainly want to include sports, I would guess that we would have most of the common sports except tackle football,” said Brody. These are some of the characteristics that would make a Sequoyah high school stand out.
“The mission statement would remain the same. The emphasis on diversity would remain, the emphasis on creativity and having a place where students feel supported to take risks and make mistakes and really apply with their learning. That would all be similar,” said Brody.
The high school curriculum would reflect the school’s different approach. “What we’re thinking right now is that we would probably not have Advanced Placement courses,” Brody said, referring to courses at other high schools specifically designed to prepare students for the pre-college placement exams offered by the College Board. “That is a very prescribed curriculum and we really want to emphasize our teachers there with our students, figuring out what they’re really passionate about and what they’re interested in. I think that if you don’t have AP classes it leaves more room for creativity.”
Grades would be a thornier issue for students applying to college from a Sequoyah high school. “We certainly are going to make sure that the Sequoyah high school curriculum prepares students to get into college,” Brody said. “But we would not want to emphasize grades. We would like to handle assessment like we do here. We would want to have portfolios and just take a lot of responsibility for setting goals, and with the teachers, understanding why or why not the students are meeting those goals. So I don’t think we would have the same conventional letter grades, but I think we would have to translate the work that students do into grades for colleges.”
Sequoyah plans their curriculum this way because their hope is to teach kids to love learning, not to work just for the grade.
A high school would also offer community-service opportunities the school presently cannot offer. “One of the things that we’re really interested in is having high school students have opportunities to work with people from for-profit and nonprofit organizations, or possibly with elected officials or government offices. Sequoyah high school students would be encouraged and supported and be working and collaborating with people outside of the school involved with social change and understanding what that looks and feels like,” said Brody. The goal would be “not only learning the content, but being able to apply that content to real life situations,” said Josh.