One of the biggest debates in the School District of Rhinelander (SDR) at the beginning of the calendar year was whether or not to move the Northwoods Community Secondary School (NCSS) into Rhinelander High School to help close a $2 million budget gap.
In the end, district officials decided to move NCSS into RHS and, so far, the new arrangement appears to be a good fit.
"I think the move's gone very well," NCSS faculty member Neil Rumney said.
Almost two months in, Rumney, who has been with the district since 2003 and with NCSS since 2006, and fellow NCSS faculty member Kristin Larsen, a 20-year district employee, are happy with the new arrangement.
With any move there are pros and cons but so far the pros are outweighing the cons, they said.
One of the positives has been easier access to high school classes for NCSS students.
NCSS students take band, choir, art, drama, foreign language, and some math and science classes at RHS.
"I believe the best part of this move is that it's allowed our students who take classes at the high school to have more time actually on-task because when we were at South Park (NCSS's old location), it used to take 15 minutes before the class started and 15 minutes after the class ended where students would be transported from South Park to the high school and vice versa. It was lost time," Rumney said. "Here, they just have to walk down the hall. So, our high school kids have better opportunities and much more structured learning time because that transition time doesn't exist anymore. It's seamless."
A male junior at NCSS concurred.
"I like that it's so much easier to take other classes without having to worry about getting a ride and all of that. We get more time in class," he said.
One thing Rumney is hoping comes out of the new location is more interaction between the two schools, especially when it comes to RHS students working with NCSS faculty in the same way RHS faculty work with NCSS students.
"I'm hoping, and I've been pushing this for years, that our amalgamation with the high school will essentially create a more open kind of transition between the two buildings," Rumney said. "I would love to see an (RHS) student come to us for a couple of hours of the day to work with us on projects. I think that would be great."
Middle school-aged NCSS students can also take classes outside of the charter, however since there is no covered structure between the high school and James Williams Middle School (JWMS), the walk can be difficult during bad weather.
"It is stressful for the middle school kids who have to walk over to the middle school," Larsen said. "It doesn't seem like a big deal, but when there's a storm or bad weather, it can be."
Thursday was a perfect example as storms battered the area all day. The two teachers said that if traveling in inclement weather turns out to be a problem, staff would start looking into other ways to get the kids to and from JWMS on severe weather days.
Rumney said the high school staff has been very welcoming to NCSS students and faculty.
"The high school staff here has been very open, very welcoming, they've stepped in and said they're willing to help out if there's anything that we need," Rumney said. "David Ditzler, the high school principal, and Richard Gretzinger (the associate principal) have been very helpful with our transition into their building. It's not like we feel like we're the black sheep, we actually feel like when we walked into this building, they wanted us here."
Rumney said that welcoming attitude has really helped put the students at ease.
"I think for a lot of kids, that was probably their biggest issue, how are we going to fit in?" Rumney said.
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The building itself is even playing a part in making NCSS feel welcome.
"We essentially went from poverty to middle class," Rumney said. "These rooms are really nice. I think the kids like them, they're comfortable, you can control the lighting in them, we've got windows to the outside. I think that's another one of the benefits of coming here. We have access to other facilities as well."
"I love our new rooms," Larsen said. "In our old building, we never had consistent temperature - it was either freezing cold or really, really hot."
But while the students are enjoying easier access to RHS and JWMS, they are finding it a bit more difficult to come together as a student body for large group activities.
At South Park, NCSS could use the gym whenever it wanted to have the entire student body congregate together for activities.
At RHS, while not impossible, group activities are turning out to be a bit more of a hassle.
"Probably one of the biggest complaints we get from the kids that were with us from sixth grade and are now in 12th grade, what they miss the most is the large group area we had at South Park where we could go and have large group sessions," Rumney said.
"I think we could still have it, I think we could still book a room, but there we didn't have to. It was just there. Our 12th graders miss interacting with the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders all the time. I think that was one of our strengths as a building."
A senior at NCSS, who has been with the charter for her educational career, agreed.
"Because we don't have our own building, we don't congregate as a school as much. When I was in sixth grade, I interacted with the upperclassmen so much more than these guys get to," she said.
One NCSS tradition that has been transferred is the community service aspect of the charter.
"I guess a positive and a negative is that we were doing community service for the community over there (around the South Park building) and I think there were a lot of solid community connections with the old people that were getting their raking done and their snow shoveling done and they saw the kids in a different light," Rumney said.
"Now, we're not over there, it's hard to service those people, but the positive is the houses around (RHS) now are going to benefit from that community service our students do. So, I'm happy that, long-term, as we get more into that, the residents around here can see young teenage students being helpful towards the community. I think that's a positive for our move."
One of the more hot-button issues when the move was first being discussed was the elimination of the NCSS secretary position.
The NCSS Governing Council fought the layoff, arguing the secretary, Terri Angell, was needed for the transition, but the layoff stood.
Now, even with the help of the high school secretarial staff, things can get a little hectic.
"The high school secretarial staff has been wonderful helping us," Larsen said. "But, there are a lot of things we've had to do to fill in the gaps because nobody really understands the structure of our school, nor would I expect them to, but it takes a lot of time away from our time with our kids, having to chase down kids to give them messages, printing off transcripts, organizing things for people who have graduated, answering calls, and all that."
But in the end, the move was a good decision.
"We do still feel like we're our own entity and we've maintained that," Rumney said.
Rumney is hoping the move will help raise the school's profile in the community.
There are a lot of misconceptions about NCSS that Rumney said he would like to change.
"We're not portrayed well in the district, as in the entire community," Rumney said.
One of the biggest misconceptions about NCSS students is that they are all troubled students who need the charter because they are unable to succeed in a traditional setting.
Nothing could be further from the truth, Rumney said.
"The majority of our kids could succeed easily in a traditional setting, as well as here," Rumney said. "All of them, I think, they are appropriately behaved, they're good kids. The majority aren't in trouble for any reason. We have a mix of kids that can succeed in either setting. We have kids that graduate early because of how hard they work and how well they do in their studies."
While many in the community believe these kids go to the charter because they are struggling, the truth is they simply want to learn in a project-based environment instead of in a traditional classroom setting, Rumney explained.
"The difference with NCSS is, instead of what most people deal with in school, going through a traditional setting where the teacher delivers the information, here the students have to research and create projects to meet the state standards. So, instead of a child learning science in one class and history in another, at NCSS the kids can combine subjects within their projects. It's not that the kids can't succeed in the traditional setting. What they're doing is, they're choosing a different avenue of reaching their high school diploma."
Currently, the middle school section of NCSS is full, but there are a few spaces open in the high school section.
For more information, or to get on the waiting list for the middle school section, parents are encouraged to contact Rumney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marcus Nesemann may be reached at email@example.com.
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