High schools' partnership will expand special classes to county studentsWhile students swap brownies for ham sandwiches in the time-honored art of lunchroom trade, administrators in Clatsop County are engaging in their own form of commerce.

School leaders have been meeting to figure out how to "trade" in class offerings, taking advantage of program specialties at their high schools to provide more options for students after a decade of program cuts.

"Each high school in the county has something special they can offer," Knappa Superintendent Rick Pass said. "We have a great Future Farmers program, one of the strongest in the state. Astoria has the fisheries class where they're actually raising salmon smolts. Seaside has the culinary arts program."

With electives and teaching staff being cut - Astoria has dropped from 41 teachers to 29 over the past five years - administrators agree they need to look at new and better ways to serve kids.

The schools already have some exchange programs in place, between high schools and with Clatsop Community College, but the 2005 school year will bring even more options.

"We believe a partnership of this extent is unparalleled in Oregon," Astoria High School Principal Larry Lockett said.

Next year, Astoria High school will be sending students to Warrenton High School to take American Sign Language and advanced Spanish classes. Astoria students will also be traveling to Knappa for an animal science class, and to Seaside for culinary arts and French 3. Students from Knappa, Seaside and Warrenton will be taking band, accounting, marketing, fish technology and aquatic biology at Astoria High School.

Astoria is also working with the college to place an American Sign Language program on the high school's campus.

Superintendents and administrators have discussed the possibility of sharing classes for years, but the plan was always tabled because it was fraught with so many obstacles. Some of the high schools have a seven-period day, others just four; some run on trimesters, others semesters. With classes starting at different times, transportation is a nightmare in the making. Financial issues behind busing students, paying for supplies, and where the state funding should go are other potential concerns.

The leaders finally decided that if they didn't jump in and experiment, it would never happen. So they opened up their curriculum to students from other schools, and decided to work through the problems as they arise.

"We don't know how well it will work, we do know the opportunities are there and we should try to share our resources," Pass said.

Astoria School District Superintendent Mike Sowder said students are already jumping at the chance to sign up for new class offerings. Astoria High School advertised the option to take French in its list of class descriptions. Instead of a handful of students, between 50 and 60 students want to learn the language.

"We created an 800-pound gorilla," Sowder said, later adding "What we're doing is a good thing. You just have to address all the details in how you make it work."

Already, Astoria students have been involved in a variety of classes outside the high school.

Thirty AHS students are taking the auto mechanics class at Clatsop Community College. Students learn about the internal combustion engine, electrical system and braking system, and can complete the first year of an automotive certification program. Sixty are in the welding program. Eight are taking Writing 121 at the college, four are in calculus, and 14 are in the fire cadet program. Students from all the high schools are already involved in the health occupations class, which meets at the MTC building, and Seaside saved three spots in its culinary arts program for out-of-district students.

School leaders are optimistic that these activities will continue, and that new exchanges can be developed.

"We're all hoping it works," Pass said.