Amarillo ISD prepares for North Heights Alternative School move to former AACAL location

Local News

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Beginning in August 2022, the move of what officials from the Amarillo Independent School District call the district’s best-kept secret is expected to occur, expanding the opportunity for more students to finish their education and come out of high school with a diploma. 

During its most recent meeting, Amarillo ISD’s Board of Trustees approved the schematic drawings for the remodel of the Amarillo Area Center for Advanced Learning (AACAL) to accommodate the North Heights Alternative High School, serving as an expansion of the facility, currently located at 607 N Hughes St.

With it being in its current location for approximately seven decades, the North Heights Alternative High School is currently the home to many programs, including the PASS program, an alternative high school program for juniors and seniors to graduate on time, as well as the Crossroads program, a relatively new credit recovery program that serves freshmen and sophomores. The campus also serves GED students as well as students throughout the district who need to continue learning after being disciplined for certain reasons. 

“The North Heights school has been here for years. It’s an amazing place. Primarily, we had served kids in a program that served our seniors and our juniors… We are now serving, in addition to, our sophomores and our freshman,” Justin Ruiz, the principal at the North Heights Alternative School, said. “Obviously, to increase the need that we have here in the building, and we’re really at a point now where we are growing… we can sure use the additional space that the AACAL location is currently going to afford us.”

According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, this remodel will add counselor’s offices to the AACAL facility, accommodating all the programs that encompass the North Heights High School. Programs previously housed within AACAL recently moved to the district’s new AmTech Career Academy. 

Ruiz said having more space at the AACAL facility will include larger rooms, as well as the ability for more technological amenities, not needing the multitudes of portable buildings the current campus uses. But ultimately, this move creates the opportunity for the campus to be more flexible as needs arise for students within the district as time goes on. 

“What it says to our students and to our community, and our district at large, I hope what it says is that we are truly working to meet the needs of all of our students throughout our district, and really trying to create the right atmosphere, to have the right facilities, in order that we might continue to grow and expand our program,” Ruiz said. “It’s going to give us the opportunity as we learn, how we continue to evolve as educators, what we can do to best meet the needs of our students… as we continue to grow.”

David Bishop, the assistant superintendent of high schools at Amarillo ISD, said as the campus continues to reach more students, it has outgrown its current facility. By moving it to AACAL, the district is able to bring the programs under one roof, becoming one campus community. 

What stands out to Bishop about the students that make up the North Heights campus community is how it consists of students from all parts of Amarillo ISD. Through North Heights, students come together to complete their education in an alternative setting, something that was highlighted during the first North Heights commencement ceremony, an event that occurred at Dick Bivins Stadium earlier this year. 

“When you look at their tassel: it had red, it had orange, it had blue and it had black. It had all of our four comprehensive high school colors in that to mean that it’s a part of what we do. It’s important,” Bishop said. “Not every student graduates on the same timeline. Some graduate in three years. Some might take five years but through an alternative campus, it allows us to meet those particular needs… Life throws so many curves for students and for families and for parents anymore. North Heights allows us to meet those needs so that those students aren’t dropouts.” 

While the new location will give the ability for the North Heights Alternative School to have more space, Bishop said whether or not the campus grows will depend on the students’ needs. 

“This is what is needed to meet those needs, so whether we grow by leaps and bounds (or) whether we have a smaller class one year, that’s okay,” Bishop said. “If it’s smaller here, we’re servicing them at our traditional high schools. If we have a larger need through a larger facility, we will have room to take care of high school kids. Also looking in the future, there may be a time that we need something for at-risk middle school kids, and that does allow us to have that route.”

This opportunity for flexibility helps students, as well as the district as a whole, in the long run, Bishop said. 

“What we don’t want is a kid to give up and if they give up on school, to be a dropout… that’s just not an option,” Bishop said. “So, by having North Heights, it allows us for a place where a kid who just can’t sit in a 50-minute class, eight hours a day… just doesn’t work (for them)… I mean life happens. North Heights allows flexibility for kids to get their education (and) graduate from high school. It’s a very very well kept secret.” 

Bishop said the district is developing plans to repurpose the building which currently serves as the home of the North Heights Alternative School. No official plan has been released. 

For more information about the North Heights Alternative High School, visit its campus webpage.

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