Construction at the brand-new Olathe West High School is finished, and its classrooms are fully stocked. The only thing missing is the students.
Olathe West’s inaugural class will start school in two weeks, on Aug. 16. On Thursday, the school hosted a media day to showcase the school’s state-of-the-art facilities. High schoolers are already taking advantage of the new space. Band rehearsal and the dance team’s practice were in full swing inside the gym.
Olathe West, the city’s fifth high school, will enroll about 925 students during the upcoming school year. That number includes freshmen, sophomores and juniors. There won’t be a senior class this year.
The school’s approach to learning is unique within the school district. The building is divided into four communities — one dedicated to each grade. Students will take their core classes within their community. Teachers will not have designated classrooms, and a hub of teachers’ offices will be housed inside each community. As in college, students will be encouraged to schedule appointments if they need help with assignments.
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Josh Umphrey, Olathe West’s assistant principal, said the school aims to foster creativity, in part through its open spaces. The school is filled with windows.
From the main landing, students can easily look into classrooms to see what other people are working on. There are gallery spaces that will display student art or projects. And each grade community has a central “makerspace” to encourage students to work together on projects.
“You want to give kids an ownership of creativity,” Umphrey said. “Think about when you’re trying to create something, publicize something. You could come in here, and think about resources you might need — they’d all be available here for students.”
The school also has a 1-ton scrap of steel from the World Trade Center displayed on the main floor. The Olathe police and fire departments collaborated with the New York Port Authority to acquire the piece, which will be officially dedicated in the fall.
The building isn’t the only thing that’s new — every student and teacher will also get a MacBook Air laptop. Olathe West is the first high school in the district to provide students and teachers with laptops.
Olathe East and Olathe North will get laptops in January, and Olathe South and Olathe Northwest will get them next August. Olathe elementary schools already have a “2-to-1” iPad program: there is one iPad for every two students.