by Joe Giddens

There’s a population boom on the far east side, but that hasn’t translated to reversing declining enrollment. However, Pima Community College and the Vail School District have recently entered into an intergovernmental agreement that will serve to help address both of those challenges.

Over the last 30 years, the Vail School District has grown from a lone school to over 17, including five high schools. Even with that growth in buildings, the district says that their high schools are overflowing. A planning committee of 100 Vail staff and parents recently has recommended the construction of a 2,000-capacity high school that will start with a 1,000-student enrollment with the remainder phased in over time. It will come at the cost of $50 million and require a bond election on the November ballot.

The school district’s committee focused on expanding on Andrada Polytechnic High School on South Houghton Road. They reported that their findings included the lack of athletic facilities, lack of a sewage connection, and they would have to improve road access. Remedying those items, among others, would rival the $50 million price tag, according to a Facebook post by the Vail School District. “Vail reached out to us and said they were at capacity,” said East Campus President Lorraine Morales. “They need to build another high school. It’s going to be a while before they do that. And that comes in addition to a new state law that was recently changed that allows for concurrent enrollment.”

“District-wide, we are at a 3.5 percent increase for the past few years,” said Vail Director of College and Career Readiness at Vail Unified School District Ethan Hurley by email. “That equates to an additional 150 high school students in the 2017/18 school year than we had in the 2016/17 school year.” Concurrent enrollment means that students can enroll in classes at the college and still fulfill the requirements for the high school as long as they take one high school class. This gives them the opportunity to earn up to 27 college credits that will also fulfill their high school requirements. This will take care of a full year of college while finishing out their high school experience. “(A) very sweet deal at no cost to the students,” Morales said.

Course credits, textbooks and fees are paid by Vail schools for the benefit of freeing up space without having to build rooms, Pima will receive the tuition and enrollment numbers. Their school day will roughly take place 9 AM to 2 PM and they’ll take one or two high school-level classes taken as a group and three to four college-level courses taken with the general Pima student body.  The Vail students will be selected after being interviewed following a consideration of their academic performance, teacher recommendations, test scores and an essay application.  This partnership was approved unanimously at the April 11th Pima Board of Governors meeting.

For the fall of 2018, 50 students have been offered the opportunity, according to Hurley. The students will have one Vail School District instructor that will teach the American government and a college success course and one administrative assistant overseeing attendance and communications. Vail staff will begin training for these new roles next month.   “I believe nationally,’ Morales said. “This is something that is on the rise too, to begin the training and the education for students earlier in high school. Dual enrollment is something that’s been going on for many years. As enrollments have declined nationally for community colleges. All of us recognize that is a great place for us to begin to introduce the students to higher education.”

Another planned change for the East Campus is an expansion of the partnership with University of Arizona South. Morales is excited about this expansion, but was unable to provide specifics. However, she said those plans will be going before the Pima Board of Governors in June

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