The state government’s decision to bulldoze Armidale and Duval high schools in favour of a state-of-the-art super-school has divided the city.
But not everyone’s happy.
Parents, students and school alumni have taken to social media to voice their concerns in unprecedented numbers.
The Express’ exclusive story reached almost 150,000 people and attracted more than 500 comments in less than a day.
And while many details are still unknown, The Express caught up with the education department’s executive director Frank Potter to find out what’s what with the new school.
A tender is already out for a project manager and an architect.
A strategic project reference group will be formed in the coming months and will include principals, staff, and members of the Parents and Citizens’ Association from both schools, the Teachers Federation, the aboriginal education community group, and stakeholders in the community.
The department is also setting up a dedicated project unit in Armidale and will conduct community focus groups and have public booths to help inform and engage with the community during the process.
There will also be a website with a frequently asked questions section and space for people to ask questions and voice their opinions.
Planning will continue 2018 with the bulldozers expected to roll into Armidale High in 2019.
During the 2019 and 2020 construction years, students from Armidale High School will share the Duval High School campus with Duval students.
Demountable classrooms will be brought in to help accommodate the extra students.
But students from both schools are likely to be in some combined classes for some subjects.
“When the students move across to Duval during the construction they will have all the facilities they need,” Mr Potter said.
“We will bring in additional classrooms so there won't be over crowning.
“The two principals might decide to combine some classes, so we might have some young people from Duval and Armidale High in a class because that might enhance their learning.”
Students who graduate in 2019 and 2020 will do so from their normal school, even though they will be on a shared campus.
“They still will be enrolled at Armidale High School until the consolidated school commences,” Mr Potter said.
The new school is set to open in 2021.
Armidale High School has three heritage listed buildings and some heritage listed trees.
The education department will conduct a review of all heritage listings on campus.
“There needs to be an analysis of what that [the heritage listings] means,” Mr Potter said.
“And that will determine what will happen to those buildings.
“That’s part of the process that we are going through now.”
Historic artefacts from both Duval and Armidale High will also be incorporated into the new school.
“Both schools have a rich history,” Mr Potter said.
“The historical aspects of the schools will be preserved.
“Things like dux boards or captains boards, they will be able to come across.
The schools will be asked to identify what is important to them, what they want to be maintained and preserved.
“So what the schools and the communities feel is important, that will be incorporated into the new school,” Mr Potter said.
“One of the key things that we need to ensure is that we have strong welfare and caring processes in our schools,” Mr Potter said.
“Often, to take a child from one place to another is really just taking to the problem from one to another.
“You need to address the problem where it happens and we need to support young people and we need to give students that opportunity.
“In a school of 1100, you're going to have the flexibility to move kids around in that context.
“So it’s not as though we’re removing choice.”
A purpose built learning support unit for students with a disability will be included in the new school.
But Mr Potter said the whole school would be designed in a way that was more inclusive to students with additional needs.
“This will have state of the art learning facilities for students with additional learning needs and physical needs,” he said.
“Not only having dedicated spaces for them but to see them included into the whole life of the school and to have access to the whole life of the school in normal classrooms.
“We don’t want to restrict kids who can be in mainstream classes.
“The school will have a notion of inclusion.”
“Classroom sizes won't increase,” Mr Potter said.
“Classroom sizes are subject to a statewide formula and they will still be what would be expected in any school.
“There were 1100 people at Armidale High School in the year 2000 so it's not as though you can't have 1100 young people there.
“But in terms of the economies of scale, you have different expertise, we can have significant opportunities for professional learning.
“Where we couldn’t offer some classes because we didn’t have enough children to staff those classes, now we will be able to do that as well.”
Wood and metal working facilities will be the best available according to the education department.
And classrooms will be designed as flexible learning spaces to incorporate best practice teaching styles.
But apart from the 1000 seat performing arts centre, no major infrastructure decisions have been made.
“In terms of what the build will look like, that will be developed after we identify what's the curriculum we want to offer, how to we want to teach to kids,” Mr Potter said.
“Teachers and the community will have input into that that build is going to look like.
“That [the pool and running track] might be nice - but at this point in time … no.”
All permanent teachers will have a job in the new school if they want it.
Casual or contracted teachers will be subject to the same processes they are now regarding employment.
“We’ve got three years before this school is going to be established,” Mr Potter said.
“In every school there are temporary teachers and people on contracts, that’s just the way some of our workforce is.
“But if there are positions available for them, they can apply for those positions and we will go through our normal staffing processes.
“In terms of people being appointed, whether it’s through a merit selection process, whether it's through a transfer process or whether it’s someone who is on an employment list - once all the permanent position have been filled, what's left will be managed through the normal staffing processes.”
“The two parents and citizens associations will need to take a lead in consultation with the school around what the school is going to be called, what the uniform might be,” Mr Potter said.
“There will be levels of engagement in which people views can be heard.”
The agriculture facilities will be retained and expended on according to the education department.
Courses in agriculture will be included in the school’s curriculum and there is also a plan to expand the current offering with more vocational education training.
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