RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Public Schools wants input on the new George Wythe High School’s theme and design, pitching it as a school that could specialize in the arts or science, technology, engineering and math.

The school district hopes to build engagement and shape the theme of the new George Wythe with a series of meetings and walks throughout the community.

The “George Wythe High School Reimagined” series, made up of community walks and in-person and virtual meetings, has been underway since March. This week, the district held community meetings at the high school and Hickory Hill Community Center.

There will also be two community walks in neighborhoods zoned for George Wythe where Richmond school employees will share information with families and others. The first walk, set for today at 3 p.m., will take place in the Broad Rock and Richmond Highway Corridor area, according to the district.

During Tuesday’s meeting at George Wythe, the people who attended heard about how they can share input on whether it “will be themed as an Arts High School or STEM/STEAM” school. The host told the attendees the chosen theme wouldn’t narrow the scope of the learning practices at the school and all options remain on the table.

“But we really wanted to lean into STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering, and math, as a concept, as a theme. Now, if the school is STEM or if the school is arts, it doesn’t mean that all the arts school kids aren’t going to take math and science,” she said.

While the core classes a student must take won’t be impacted, she said the school will have a heavier focus on the theme and that it would make a vital impact on the new school’s design.

“Maybe in a STEM school we’re going to need biology labs and lots of high-tech equipment,” she explained. “In an arts school, we would want to have ceramics place where students can do art and a painting space or a dance stage. So, it really does make a difference which one we land on.”

Those in attendance Tuesday were given a catalogue of sample courses for both potential options and asked to check off the classes they would be interested in if they were students.

The meetings are held in both English and Spanish. Some sessions, like the one being held Thursday, are conducted in Spanish with English translation. Others have been done in Spanish only.

According to figures from the Virginia Department of Education, the school’s student body is about half Latino and nearly 47% Black.

The goals of “George Wythe High School Reimagined,” listed online by the district, include making sure that:

  • George Wythe students, families, staff, and community members receive timely and up-to-date information on the new school design and planning process. 
  • A diverse group of stakeholders are engaged and know how to share their opinions and ideas. 
  • Extensive feedback is provided to help determine the Passion4Learning theme: Arts or STEM. 
  • Extensive feedback is provided to determine exactly what the designated “community space” should be (e.g., community health clinic, satellite Welcome Center, etc.). 
  • Extensive feedback is provided regarding other design elements (“look” of the school, specific layout adjustments to the prototype, etc.).

The reimagining series began as the City Council and Richmond School Board were at odds over the design and construction of the new George Wythe, with the capacity level being the main sticking point. After months of disagreement, the School Board narrowly backed an ordinance to build a school for 1,800 students this week.

While the agreement means the design process can move forward, the district is still focused on establishing more community engagement on what the new George Wythe will be.

“We started these conversations despite everything that’s happening between the School Board and the city because we really do believe that our students need a new building,” the host at Tuesday’s meeting told attendees.

“And when we are ready, we want to be able to say we know what this school is going to be, we have ideas about what the design should look like and we have consulted with all of our key folks, our students, our community members, our leaders, to say what is that you want this school to be for our children and our community.”