RACINE COUNTY — When students across the Racine Unified School District begin the 2017-2018 school year today, they will be welcomed by a bevy of new opportunities, from new buildings and classrooms to new ways to learn.
At the REAL School, students will have a place to call their own, as the school, known for its focus on engineering, arts and leadership, begins the year in a refurbished and renovated building at 10116 Stellar Ave. in Sturtevant, inside the Sportsplex building. The school previously was housed at the old Olympia Brown School building on Erie Street.
The new location will allow the school to grow, district officials have said, while also offering students more ways to prepare for college and careers.
Students at the school, which serves grades 6-12, also will have the opportunity to take classes at the SC Johnson iMET Center, which Gateway Technical College runs nearby at 2320 Renaissance Blvd.
During a ribbon cutting on Thursday, students and their parents packed the entrance area of the new school to celebrate the occasion and tour the facility
“Almost nowhere in the country are school systems working with technical colleges like Racine is working with Gateway,” said Unified Superintendent Lolli Haws, addressing the crowd. “Our graduates from the REAL School, as well as our three high schools, are going to walk across the stage on graduation day, many of them here at the REAL School, with almost an associate’s degree in (information technology) or engineering.”
As students toured his new classroom, REAL School social studies teacher Tom Kucharski, who has been with the school for 17 years, called the new building and support from the district, a validation.
“It’s weird for us, because we have always had hand-me-downs,” he said. “This is pretty special.”
At the district’s main high schools, students will also be greeted by new spaces and equipment – much of it geared to help the schools’ underclassmen as they move through their first or second year of the district’s career-focused Academies of Racine program.
Horlick High School students will take advantage of new state-of-the-art science labs, thanks in part to a grant from CNH, as-well-as a new construction lab.
Students at Park High School will get a chance to test out their electronics and programming skills in the school’s new robotics and mechatronics lab. The school was able to build the lab thanks to a partnership with SME Education Foundation PRIME (Partnership Response In Manufacturing Education) that garnered the school a $75,000 donation from the Emerson Foundation, the parent company of InSinkErator. About half of that grant was used to set up the up the mechatronics and robotics lab.
“Right now we have some really awesome partnerships,” Unified spokeswoman Stacy Tapp said. “There has been a lot of people just stepping up and asking how they can help with the academies.”
Meanwhile, at Case High School, which has long been home to an international baccalaureate or IB program, the students will be able to participate in an IB-focused career program.
At the district’s many elementary schools, parents will notice new curriculum aimed at energizing kids about reading and writing, as well as new supports for students of all stripes.
The district will be increasing the number of full-day 4K classrooms. The move should spell greater success for students going forward, especially those children who need “a little extra support” to prepare for the expectations of kindergarten, Tapp said.
The district will also be adding gifted resource teachers throughout its elementary schools to help classroom teachers with identifying and challenging gifted students.
There will be not changes to start times for schools, but students and staff at Goodland and Knapp elementary schools will notice earlier release times. Instruction at both schools will now wrap up at 2:05 p.m.
Unified announced in May that state guidelines that previously required certain schools to have added hours of instruction time had expired and the schools could return to a more uniform start and end time.
Unified will also be opening two new mental health clinics. One will be at Julian Thomas Elementary School, 930 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. The other, more community-based clinic, will be located at 2333 Northwestern Ave., where the district’s alternative learning programs are now based. The additions will bring the total of mental health clinic in the district to six, Tapp said.
“(The clinics) are for student and families who really need that support,” she said. “They have been really helpful for our staff as well by helping them to support the students, which also helps to improve the climate in our schools.”
Although middle schools won’t see many changes this year, parents, students and staff can expect to be kept abreast of major changes that lie ahead as Unified prepares to transform many of the schools into K-8 institutions by the start of the 2018-2019 school year.
Under the changes, which the district has dubbed “My School. My Choice,” students can opt for their designated kindergarten through eighth-grade campus — Gifford, Jerstad-Agerholm or Mitchell — or have the chance to lottery into the K-8 Gilmore Fine Arts; the sixth-through 12th-grade REAL School; the sixth- through 12th-grade Walden III, or Starbuck, which will become a sixth- through eighth-grade international baccalaureate school.
The moves will result in some bigger campuses. Walden, which will move to what is now McKinley Middle School, 2701 Drexel Ave., will see its enrollment, currently at 525 students, increase by 175 students over a three-year period. It will also mean the closure of Bull Fine Arts, 815 DeKoven Ave., the elementary school that is the current home of the district’s fine arts program.
The enrollment window for the new choice schools will take place in December and January, Tapp said. She said the district will keep students and parents informed about when and how they can take part in the choice process.
“There is some great stuff coming, and our work over the next year will be to get all that ready and in place,” Tapp said.