SHERIDAN — As a bill proposal that includes funding for a new John C. Schiffer Collaborative School makes its way through the Wyoming Legislature, a few local conversations have centered around the enrollment and atmosphere of the potential building.
House Bill 80 — the school capital construction supplemental budget — includes up to about $8.82 million for construction of a new Schiffer School on the south end of the Sheridan College campus. The bill is on track to be approved. If it is, groundbreaking on a new school is scheduled to begin in July, with its doors opening fall 2020 at the earliest.
At a Jan. 23 luncheon between the boards of trustees at Sheridan County School District 2 and the Northern Wyoming Community College District, SCSD2 board member Arin Waddell said she believed the new building will likely reach its enrollment capacity of 116 students in the first few years.
“This is going to be a life raft for students,” Waddell said. In a Feb. 5 interview, Waddell expounded on her comment, saying the stigma associated with attending the Schiffer School has decreased.
“I think there’s a cultural shift,” Waddell said “…Not just because it’s a ‘cool place,’ but because it serves a population that may just not fit in a traditional model, and that’s OK. But there’s less shame in it.”
In a Jan. 31 interview, SCSD2 assistant superintendent Scott Stults also said there is a strong possibility the new school will be filled to enrollment capacity in the first two years.
At the luncheon, NWCCD board trustee Gary Koltiska supported the new building, saying he would have gladly enrolled in a place like the Schiffer School if the option was available when he was a student.
“It looks like a better opportunity for me to get the education I would’ve wanted,” Koltiska said.
The Schiffer School currently rents classroom space at Sheridan College, something it has done since fall 2017. The alternative high school has 66 students, all but one of whom attend SCSD2.
Once the new building opens, Stults said the number of students from other school districts — including Sheridan County School District 1, Sheridan County School District 3 and Johnson County School District 1 — will almost definitely increase.
SCSD2 board trustee Shellie Szmyd said the application process between students and parents should help with reasonable enrollment increases.
“There’s a lot of give and take, but there is an application process,” Szmyd said. “…It’s not just an open door.”
Indeed, before acceptance into the Schiffer School, students must be referred by either a parent, teacher, counselor or principal. Then, a student’s parents or guardian must go through after-school parenting classes.
“It’s a total commitment by the family,” SCSD2 superintendent Craig Dougherty said. “…It’s embracing that whole culture out there, and that’s not just the child, but it’s the parents or guardian that have to step up as well.”
At the luncheon, NWCCD President Paul Young said a new building should help with dual enrollment and might lead to horizontal expansion in the next several years, for which the new Schiffer School building is designed.
“Maybe not in two years, but in a little while, you may very well be back here talking about Phase 2,” Young said.
Young, who is stepping down from his position in July after nine years as president, called the Schiffer School collaboration one of the things he is most proud of in his time at Sheridan College.
When the new building is finalized, Young said he hopes Schiffer School students are not entirely separated from the rest of campus because Sheridan College students have indirectly provided the high-schoolers a template for how to act in college.
“The downside of a beautiful new building on the south end of campus is we all have a tendency to want to stay (where we are),” Young said. “… I hope we can find ways to keep them so they’re not just down there at the south end … The older students are modeling. There’s some unintentional mentoring going on there.”
On Feb. 5, Waddell also mentioned the relationship between a school’s design and student action. The new building will ideally feel less constrained than a traditional high school, hopefully boosting the comfort level and learning ability.
“Architecture dictates how we act,” Waddell said. “…The new Schiffer School is going to have an open courtyard, an open feel, so when you walk in you can take a deep breath.”
The new Schiffer School won’t open its doors until at least next year, but conscious efforts have been made to design it with different learning styles in mind.