Major overhaul considered for Pasco County's struggling Ridgewood High School
Long one of Pasco County's lowest performing schools, Ridgewood High School could find itself closed as a traditional campus next fall and transformed into a magnet focused on career and technical programs.
A plan that goes to the School Board for discussion Tuesday would rezone current Ridgewood students to other nearby high schools -- primarily Fivay and Hudson -- and then open the reformatted (and possibly renamed) Ridgewood to choice applications. Rising seniors would be allowed to finish high school at Ridgewood.
The school would target students who are interested in fields such as welding, cybersecurity, neurodiagnostics and commercial driving. It would connect tightly with neighboring Marchman Technical College, and aim to provide graduates with a high school diploma, an associate of science degree and industry certifications by the time they complete twelfth grade.
It would not offer high school athletics, freeing existing field space for additional classroom buildings and work space.
"We want to do something different," superintendent Kurt Browning said, stressing that no decision will be made until further research is done and ample community input has been heard.
Still, he added, something needs to be done for Ridgewood because of its persistently poor state test scores. The school has received a D grade from the state in each of the past two years, and must create a turnaround plan for improvement.
With newly adopted state law, it would have two years (instead of the previous three) to show adequate growth. Otherwise, it would face one of three options: shutting down, being coverted to a charter school, or being turned over to a management company.
"I'm looking at this as an opportunity to transform the school," Browning said. "I'm not saying we can't improve the school grade at Ridgewood High School, but history is not on my side."
The school has been on a roller coaster for the past decade.
In 2010, after three consecutive D grades, Ridgewood became Pasco's only school to land on the state's lowest 5 percent list. It qualified for a federal improvement grant, and began implementing several reforms to the way it approached teaching and, more generally, treating students.
Past coverage: Ridgewood High plots new course for academic recovery
Andy Frelick, principal at the time, said that data about attendance, grades, test results and more would drive the decisions. He faced pushback from the community, but made the changes regardless.
"The whole philosophy behind what we're doing - we'll do the gradual release model, we're putting more responsibility on the kids for learning, but also if we expect more we'll get more. ... It will take some time. We know it's a growing process," he told the Gradebook at the time.
The school saw results. Its D grade improved to C at the end of 2010, and B for 2011 and 2012.
Frelick was transferred in 2012 to Zephyrhills High, which was closer to his home and had its own set of problems. He was replaced with Angie Murphy, a rising young administrator who had not been a principal before. Several other administrative posts also changed hands at Ridgewood.
The school's performance began to slide again soon after. It dropped to C for 2013-15, and back to D for 2016 and 2017. Only about a third of students scored at grade level or better on their most recent state math and language arts tests.
The school's climate also dipped under Murphy. A fall 2016 Gallup survey of students showed that 76 percent were either "not engaged" or "actively disengaged" in school, and just 35 percent were "hopeful" for the future. The problems were perhaps highlighted in a battle over dress code, which Murphy wanted to change as a way to bolster behavior and academic performance.
Saying Ridgewood needed a "strong principal," Browning moved popular Seven Springs Middle principal Chris Dunning into the high school in February 2017 as part of a sweeping administrative reorganization. Dunning now faces the task of putting the school back on track.
With little time, he and others are thinking big. Hence this latest concept, which had been kept fairly quiet as a discussion until the administration decided it needed to reach out for more insights -- not to mention School Board direction whether to move forward.
The board will have a workshop on the idea Tuesday morning. Board members said they had received a Power Point presentation on the proposal, and had questions as a result.
They noted that the idea did nothing to help the district resolve its west-side crowding problems, which look only to grow. In fact, Ridgewood, with its dwindling enrollment, had been identified by some in the community as a logical place to fill seats, not empty them.
They also wondered how a technical high school might be received in the area, as opposed to other parts of the county. The board has talked for many years of adding a technical high school, but mostly on the east side. It has been very supportive of increasing career programs throughout the county.
"I'm going to reserve judgment and comment until I see the balance of their presentation," board chairman Allen Altman said.
"I've really got to hear from Dr. Dunning," board member Alison Crumbley added.
Dunning and Marchman principal Rob Aguis have begun explaining the idea to their staff members. Browning anticipated that union negotiations would be required to make some of the changes, such as extending the class day by 30 minutes and moving to a block schedule.
"We want to have more discussions about it," Browning said. "I don't want anybody thinking the decision has been made."