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New Nederland High School promises upgraded educational approach

NEDERLAND — If Dr. Stuart Kieschnick enters a classroom and it looks like it did in 1950, he knows something is wrong.

The Nederland Independent School District superintendent said today’s classroom must foster an environment where students learn in groups and cycles.

“The teacher shouldn’t be the teacher; the teacher should be the facilitator of learning,” he said. “We’re keeping that philosophy in mind while building the new high school.”

Nederland educators and supporters are going to celebrate that philosophy Monday during a 10 a.m. groundbreaking ceremony for construction of a new Nederland High School taking place behind the performing arts center.

Dr. Stuart Kieschnick, NISD superintendent, holds up a construction mockup in front of the location where the new high school is set for building. (Stephen Hemelt/The News)

Following a successful bond election in May 2019, local residents were promised an $82.7 million high school covering 272,000 square feet.

Final design will now include 280,000 square feet over two floors for a fully functioning new school, designed to service 1,700 students in ninth through 12th grades. The new facility is going to be on the same grounds as the current high school.

The bulk of the new construction takes place behind the high school’s performing arts center, which will remain as part of the new educational footprint.

Construction is scheduled to finish in July of 2023, which allows the new high school to begin serving students during the 2023-24 academic year.

The Dog Dome, competition gym and cafeteria area in the current high school will remain after construction as administrators finalize plans for future use of those amenities.

The competition gym may be repurposed as a home for the school’s Westernaires and cheerleaders, while the space around the cafeteria could be used for professional development, allowing the school district to host large numbers for training events.

Pictured is the projected design for the new Nederland High School, which is scheduled to open for the 2023-24 academic year.

Much of the rest of the current high school will be demolished.

Kieschnick said the high school’s new career and technical education department will provide a modern approach to teaching work-related skills, allowing those graduates to excel at a two-year college or apprenticeship program.

Administrators want graduates to enter the workforce from high school with welding, auto mechanic, agriculture or certified nurse’s aide skills.

Students will be able to go to an electrician’s program as a second-year apprentice because they would have completed the first year at Nederland High School.

“That center is preparing those kids for the workforce,” Kieschnick said.

Attendance at the high school currently runs between 1,450 and 1,500 students, so new construction takes into account a growth trend that follows projections from a consultant group.

“That was before the major capital projects at the local refineries stalled or got put on hold,” Kieschnick said. “We have seen that growth pattern level out in the past year, but we do attribute that to COVID. What we don’t know is when the incline will start again. A lot of that depends on the capital projects at the refineries.”

Nederland educators and supporters will celebrate at a 10 a.m. groundbreaking ceremony Monday for construction of a new Nederland High School. (Stephen Hemelt/The News)

Transition and growth has been an ever-present function of the high school, which hosted its first graduating class in 1972.

The school, located at the corner of Spurlock Road and North 18 Street, originally opened as a 10th, 11th and 12th grade campus before ninth grade students were moved there.

Kieschnick said expansions and upgrades have followed in the subsequent 50 years to address enrollment increases and student demand.

The 30-year veteran educator said he is proud of the design process, which involved the citizens, teacher groups and community groups.

“We’re literally transforming education in Nederland right now,” he said.

Despite the glitz and glamor of the new construction, the core principle for Nederland Independent School District remains “relationship building,” according to Kieschnick.

“You have to be ready to learn before you can learn,” he said. “Once you get past relationships and learning does occur, schools have to be a safe place to learn. When kids walk in the door and parents drop them off, they have to know those kids are going to be safe. We’re going to have good discipline in Nederland schools. We’re going to teach kids how to act and hold them to a high level of accountability. We’re going to have those character programs built into our curriculum. We hold students accountable, we hold teachers accountable and we hold our admin accountable.”

HBNield is serving as the construction manager for the Nederland High School project and has an office located on campus to oversee construction scheduled for the next two years plus. (Stephen Hemelt/The News)