'Who said we're doing academies?': Lack of communication, collaboration makes their future uncertain

Kevin Hoherz, principal of Dickinson High School, addresses the school board. (Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press)

Dickinson High School has been planning to implement a career academy model, which places students into career-based groups similar to colleges, the first phase of which is due to begin in 2020. However, the school board never voted on it.

"The board never voted, so there wasn’t ever an absolute decision are we proceeding with the academy model no matter what in 2020, yes or no. That was never a question," Brent Seaks, president of the school board, told the district during a workshop on Monday, Dec. 9.

Principal Kevin Hoherz was under the impression that the school board was on board with the plan.

"We've talked about academies for two years," he said.

School board member David Wilkie replied, " You’ve talked about academies for two years. Our conversation came up at the school board meeting like who the h** said we’re doing academies? I asked that question, did we vote on academies? And the answer was I don’t think you have to. The conversation hasn’t been with us about academies."


Superintendent Shon Hocker pointed out that the academies were brought up in a previous workshop with the board in September.

"None of this conversation, as far as against anything, ever came up," he said. "By default, as an administrative team, what are we left to think? The board is aware. We shared out the academies. We talked about this and that, and there was no concern from anybody. The concern started to pop up when we get to this point and change is about to happen and we have 10% of our staff up in arms about moving offices or not teaching a class."

Wilkie asked the administration for clarification as to whether moving to the academy model should be a school board decision.

Hocker seemed to disagree but said the board could vote on it if it likes.

"The reality is, Dave ... generally boards are involved in making decisions with calendars, days that we might not have, things that are affecting individuals’ work schedules," he said. "Oftentimes, administrative kinds of schedules — the number of classes that we’re offering, the types of classes, whether we’re AB or whether we’re just a 4x4, those are oftentimes left up to administration."

Wilkie seemed to believe it was the school board's decision.

"Looking at the North Dakota School Board Association, instructional and curriculum, the school board is responsible for adopting and changing standards and instructional programs as necessary or as recommended by the superintendent," he said. "My understanding of that phrase is it is our job to determine whether this is the direction we want to go in."

Hocker argued that the administration wasn't changing any standards, to which Wilkie said the instructional programs were changing.


"Is drafting changing?" Hocker asked. "Is English changing? In an academy model, it’s really not changing, Dave. It’s refocused based on student interest."

So how did we get this far without knowing the school board wasn't fully in agreement? In a followup workshop on Friday, Dec. 13, Seaks had a guess.

Prior to the referendum, the plan was to implement the academies in a new school building.

"When the referendum failed, I think that’s when there was some confusion," Seaks said. "Once the referendum failed, my understanding now is, the administration’s thought process was, well, we thought the academy model was good moving forward in the new high school. We still think the academy model is the way to go. We think the academy model can work and be implemented in the old high school."

Other board members shared with Seaks conversations they have had with parents and teachers about their concerns with the academy model and changing the schedule.

School board Vice President Kim Schwartz said there was a lack of collaboration on the school district's part, and board members Michelle Orton and Jason Rodakowski said there was a lack of communication on the district's part.

Schwartz said that the process was moving too quickly for some teachers with whom she had spoken.

"They like it. It’s too fast. That’s what I keep hearing over and over," she said.


Rodakowski said that he had heard from teachers that their questions weren't being answered.

"I think it’s happening so fast that it’s not getting back to the channels it needs to be, and the teachers aren’t feeling like they’re part of the effort," he said. "They would ask questions and then they wouldn’t hear. Maybe the administration fixed it, maybe they didn’t, but it didn’t get back to the people that asked the question," he said.

The school board discussed whether the district was ready to implement the academies in 2020. Together, they came up with a list of questions to ask the district and high school administration, which were answered the same day. We'll delve into those questions in Wednesday's edition of The Press.

"In my mind, whatever is decided, the best possible outcome is that it’s very collaborative in nature. It’s what we think is best; it’s what the administration thinks is best; it’s what the teachers think is best," Seaks said.

Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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