Spokane Public Schools on Thursday opened the new academic year by welcoming students to two new middle schools, Glover and Shaw. It also opened a new facility for students who don’t feel like they fit in the other high schools.
The On Track Academy sits within shouting distance of the new Shaw Middle School. It’s officially named the Lisa Mattson On Track Academy after its principal.
“We started 12 years ago as a lean start up idea to serve students that wanted to leave our district and just couldn’t find their spot," Mattson said.
Mattson says On Track opened with 70 students. Its enrollment quickly grew to 340, grades 10-through-12, within two semesters. The program occupied space in the district’s Skills Center and, as it grew, it had to squeeze into unused spaces around the district, including several portable buildings.
"We had a wing at Shaw and rented space at SFCC. It was lovely in that it felt like an elementary classroom. The students were known. Their voice was heard. They had confidence and they felt hopeful, truly cared for. It was very, very safe. The disadvantage is they remained in pods. It was really difficult to do things together to offer more experiences, extend those experiences because we were scrambling to find a place to do it," she said.
The new facility pulls everything together into a two-story space with tall windows and garage doors that open onto a courtyard. It has dedicated science labs and several multi-purpose rooms that can be adjusted for a variety of uses, including by community groups. On Track’s enrollment has grown to 550 with space to grow by another 100.
“Our whole goal is that our students own their learning and drive what’s happening for them in their learning plan. We wanted it to feel more like a community college campus so that when they go on to their post-secondary training, whatever that is, they’ll say, ‘It’s just like my school,'" Mattson said.
Whether that school is a community college or a trade school or a four-year university. She says the new building’s proximity to Shaw Middle School allows the two schools to share resources. Shaw students can visit On Track and use its space for art or technical classes and On Track students can use Shaw’s athletic facilities.