Fifth High School In Olathe School District Ready To Open

Aug 3, 2017

The main hall in the new $82 million Olathe West High School.
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

When you walk into the new Olathe West High School, it doesn't at all feel like a high school. It could be on a college campus — or even the campus of Microsoft or Google.

There's an atrium when you walk in, along with a large commons area — and even a part of the library where students and teachers can congregate.

“We really feel like we’ve tailored what we’re going to do in the classroom, and we were fortunate enough to build the school around that,” says Olathe West Prinicpal Jay Novacek.

What they want to do, Novacek says, is encourage teachers and students to collaborate. He says they've built what he calls "maker" spaces throughout the $82 million building.

“So if I’m a math teacher and I’m teaching angles and maybe I want to partner up a woodshop teacher and build a frame and show how to cut a 45-degree angle, that would be an excellent use of both a maker space and doing a little bit of a project- based learning approach,” Novacek says.

The school opens Aug. 16 and will have 850 freshmen, sophomores and juniors. A senior class will be added next year. The building can accommodate up to 2,200 students, according to the district.

The district is still unpacking at the new Olathe West High School, set to open Aug. 16
Credit Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

“It’s like new energy. You’re like the first classes to be here and it’s really exciting, an awesome experience to be able to be here," says sophomore Reagan Gimbert. 

There are no student lockers and teachers won't have permanent classrooms.

Gimbert likes the college feel. “So you sort of get ready for that college aspect and it’s really cool,” she says.

The district is adding two new academies for students looking to work in law enforcement or firefighting or in green technology.  The district also has 15 other academies in its four other high schools, ranging from engineering to business finance.

“I think the thing that we find that is probably a trend, if you will, in education, in a high school education, is making sure you’re really working with a student’s passion and interest," says Deputy Superintendent Banikowski. "And making sure, then, all the content and course work is geared toward that passion.”  

Sam Zeff covers education for KCUR and the Kansas News Service and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @SamZef