Looking Ahead to the Dedication of Davies High School

Opening a new elementary school because of growth is a relatively common occurrence.  In the past few years the south side of our community has grown by approximately 85 students a year.  If we build an elementary school to house five sections per grade level, we would expect to open a new elementary school every six or seven years.  We see significantly fewer middle schools open because they are more expensive to build and operate and, in part, because of their size: they are generally able to better accommodate growth.  Next summer, we will open a new high school – a rare occurrence.  Why is this so rare?

High schools are the most expensive type of facility to build and operate.  They have a much broader collection of specialized spaces such as theaters, competitive athletic facilities, science labs, and vocational spaces.  Those specialized areas also require additional staff – an ongoing expense.  Usually these facilities are contemplated only when there has been a great deal of growth.  What makes the opening of Davies High School very unique is that the Board elected to build it not to accommodate growth, but to increase educational opportunities for students.  They didn’t do this in isolation, but in consultation with 2,200 residents in a significant planning process.  So, how much more opportunity will this create?

First of all, the community told us they wanted high schools no larger than 1,200-1,350.  They are large enough to offer a full complement of academic opportunities, but small enough to not have students “falling through the cracks” in terms of having a significant relationship with an adult.  The opening will also provide additional opportunities in all types of activities.  Our high schools currently offer 127 different extra- or co-curricular opportunities.  Twice as many students south of Main Avenue will be able to participate in those activities with the opening of Davies – the same ratio students North of Main Avenue have enjoyed for years.  In the simplest of terms, moving from two high schools to three provides a 50 percent increase in opportunities for students.  In fact, the name – Judge Ronald N. Davies High School – is itself a story of increased opportunities for students.

In the past few months I have had an opportunity to meet and visit with members of the Davies family and area judges who worked with Judge Davies.  I have come to understand how fitting it is to name this building after him.

Early in his years as a federal judge, Judge Ronald Davies was asked to hear a case in Little Rock, Arkansas – Aaron v. Cooper.  He made a courageous decision in that case that was later affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court as Cooper v. Aaron – widely regarded as a landmark decision.  As a result the African-American students, known as the “Little Rock Nine,” were allowed to attend Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas under the protection of soldiers.  (For more information, Google ‘Aaron v. Cooper,’ ‘Little Rock Nine,’ and ‘Southern Manifesto.’  Also see http://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=741).  It is so appropriate to name a high school after a judge from Fargo who played a major role in the nationwide desegregation of schools.

So, on August 21, 2011 the dedication of Davies High School will take place.  U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and his family will be in attendance.  Three of the Little Rock Nine will be in attendance as well.  It is not often people of national significance help celebrate the dedication of a school.

Some may argue that the focus should be on the opening of a high school, not the dignitaries.  I would argue it isn’t an either-or proposition.  We get to celebrate the opening of opportunities for our students and recognize a local person who opened opportunities for students nationally.

Like the decision of Judge Ronald N. Davies in Little Rock, the opening of this high school is all about increasing opportunities for students.

(By Lowell Wolff, Assistant to the Superintendent, Community Relations & Planning)

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