Groups break ground on new Delta High

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJune 25, 2014 

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory officials could have said they were too busy to help start Delta High School.

Tri-City school districts could have said they were more concerned about complying with federal education mandates than starting a new cooperative program.

Private businesses could have failed to rally to raise financial support for the endeavor.

Columbia Basin College could have declined to provide a temporary facility in Richland, and Washington State University Tri-Cities could have withheld its faculty from developing curriculum for a science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, focused school.

Instead, those public and private entities converged Wednesday in west Pasco to turn the first shovels of dirt for Delta High's new $13.7 million school.

"What is most amazing about this project, from my perspective, is that so many said 'yes,' " Kennewick School District Superintendent Dave Bond told the crowd of about 100.

School officials and supporters credited the robust endorsement of state education and business leaders, lawmakers and the Tri-City community for striving to make the innovative school a success and educational model in the state and nation.

"Certainly this building has the potential to change so many more lives in our community," said Mike Kluse, PNNL director and senior vice president of Battelle.

About $15 million in state money provided by the Legislature and state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is paying for the bulk of the project being built just north of the intersection of Broadmoor Boulevard and Sandifur Parkway. The school is set to open for the 2015-16 school year.

The nearly 45,000-square-foot school will house Delta High's roughly 400 students and meet the needs of a STEM-centric education.

School and community leaders met more than seven years ago to create Delta High out of a need to better prepare students for the 21st century economy and its jobs.

Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill lauded the early efforts of the districts, CBC, WSU Tri-Cities, Battelle and the Washington State STEM Education Foundation for bringing about the construction of a permanent home for the program.

"This is just the next step," she said.

Getting here wasn't easy, officials said. In addition to coordinating the efforts of the various school districts, businesses and other parties, Delta High needed significant resources to get started. Battelle has contributed about $4 million in cash and other help since the school started.

State lawmakers, specifically former state Sen. Jerome Delvin, now a Benton County commissioner and his successor, state Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, helped but not without regular reminders from the school's supporters.

"(Delvin) would see me coming and go the other way," Kluse said of his lobbying efforts. "I hounded him every time I saw him."

The importance of STEM is evident, officials said. The demand for engineers, computer scientists and similar high tech professionals far outpaces the number the state is producing.

More importantly, traits that STEM encourages -- collaboration, creativity and critical thinking -- are crucial in any career, said foundation President Tom Yount.

"It's really time to shift into high gear because our kids can't wait any longer," he said.

State Superintendent Randy Dorn told the Herald it's crucial the state grow its own high-tech workforce, as that will be key to maintaining the state's economy. But the state and public schools have to change to make it work and can't do it without help from the private sector.

"It's a great day because we're giving more options and more choices (to students)," he said.

Delta High recently graduated its second senior class but officials said they already see the promise the school offers. College professors have remarked on the greater capabilities of STEM-educated students. Michael Schutzler, CEO of the Washington Technology Industry Association, told the Herald he's impressed with the Delta students he's met.

"Every high school in the state should take note of this," Schutzler said.

But everyone noted that it was one of key goals of STEM education -- collaboration -- that has made the school what it is today. Seven students, from a kindergartner to one of the first 62 seniors to graduate from the school in 2013, presented items for a time capsule for the school.

Yuliya Baranovskaya, a 2013 Delta High graduate, added the last item, a piece of chain with seven links symbolizing the school's seven initial partners. She closed with a quote from Helen Keller:

"Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much."

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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