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Sun, Feb. 16

New PUSD high school will be at Dexter ­ for now

PRESCOTT ­ Despite some concerns, the Prescott Unified School District Governing Board Tuesday made a decision that likely saved the Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy, which is due to open this fall.

Members voted four to one ­ with Tom Staley voting "no" ­ to use Dexter Family Resource Center during 2006-07 and 2007-08 as the home for Northpoint, which for the first year of its existence will house only freshmen.

Currently, the district's preschool programs share the building Northern Arizona University. The university will relocate this fall, leaving half the Dexter building empty.

Its capacity is 500 students. At this point, about 85 preschool students are there at any given time, and for the first year, Northpoint would serve only 100 students (and a total of 200 the next school year).

Board members Tom Staley and Dee Navarro each reported having heard concerns from parents regarding preschoolers and high school students sharing the building.

Some high school students' parents, they said, were reluctant to place their children in a school that didn't have a high school atmosphere. Some preschool students' parents didn't want their young children interacting with the older children.

Board members and Supt. Kevin Kapp said they'd received an e-mail from a staff member at Dexter who had an idea as to how separate the younger students from the older students.

Kapp said he plans on meeting today with the administrators at Dexter to figure out a "site layout" that would keep the two programs as separate as possible.

In the eight years Northern Arizona University has been at Dexter along with the preschool programs, Kapp said, he has never heard of any inappropriate situations or any hallway collisions.

Staley voted not to approve Northpoint's establishment at Dexter in part because of the annual cost, from the maintenance and operations budget, to run it (about $177,000).

The $600,000 grant the district received from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to start the high school will cover about one-quarter to one-third of that annual operating amount, Kapp said.

"I can't help feeling in my gut that we pushed this a little bit too hard, too quickly," he said, estimating that the district would have to bring in about 40 non-district students each year to cover the cost of running the school.

On the other hand, Board Member Andy Newton said he looks at Northpoint as an opportunity to provide students with educational alternatives.

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained," he said.

Both Board Member Steve Campbell and Kapp said that if the school doesn't pan out and does end up being too expensive after a couple of years, the district always can cancel it.

"I think we should definitely take on this endeavor," Kapp said.

Ultimately, four of the board members agreed with him.

After all, Board President Joan Fleming said, "If we don't move the high school to Dexter, I think we're going to lose the high school. Because where are you going to put it? This is temporary."

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