Our Opinion: Reuse Meyers High School in Wilkes-Barre as regional school for the arts

October 24th, 2016 10:41 am

Would it be a good idea to …

… morph Wilkes-Barre Area School District Superintendent Brian Costello’s proposal to preserve Meyers High School auditorium into a more ambitious, regional performing arts charter high school?

A little background: Insisting that studies show renovation of the venerable Meyers building in South Wilkes-Barre would be too costly, the school board voted to consolidate grades nine through 12 of Meyers and Coughlin High School in a new building to be constructed at the Coughlin site.

The fate of Meyers was left up in the air – until last Monday night, when Costello publicly unveiled a proposal to raze most of the school, but preserve and renovate its auditorium into what he called an “urban performing arts center.”

The school board agreed to launch an “exploratory” committee to look into the proposal.

But the idea could present a grander opportunity to the region as a whole – if area school districts worked together. The truth is that Wilkes-Barre Area almost certainly lacks the money and student interest to launch a true performing arts high school on its own. But a regional school open to students from other districts might succeed.

A quick way to do this could be to use the state’s charter school system.

It’s worth noting that, while charter schools are often touted as “competition” to public schools, that wasn’t the original intent. The notion, proposed in 1988 by an education professor, was far more collaborative.

Districts were to create, or “charter,” schools that would be more independent – run by teachers looking for innovative ways to help struggling students succeed, or figuring out solutions to problems the district faced. The charter and the district were a team: When a charter school idea succeeded, the district would see if that success could be scaled up to work district-wide.

But charter schools rapidly evolved into private competition, often run either by private corporations outright or by local boards of directors who then contracted a private company to help with management. School boards became far more likely to reject applications for charters, and to grumble about the loss of state money that flowed to the charters when students left the district to enroll in one.

However, there is nothing to stop Wilkes-Barre Area from returning the charter idea to its roots. The board could collaborate with other districts eligible to send students to a new performing arts school, creating a school that works with districts rather than against them, while giving students a new option. It also would give the region a new educational gem centered on an auditorium that boasts some of the most elegant stained-glass work in the county.

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