History of Horizon
For many years people in Evanston had talked about having an Alternative School. The need arose as the local high school had high enrollment and noted that there were far too many drop-out students. Sandy Williams was the head of Adult Education at Lifelong Learning Center, and she consulted with Superintendent Mel Baldwin about developing a new program for drop-out students. The Alternative “Classroom” began in 1998 when Sandy Williams of Lifelong Learning Center (now BOCES) put a team together and traveled to visit three other Alternative Schools in the state. The two full time teachers hired were Blaine Blonquist and Karen Fisher, Ms. Alexander-Garcia was half-time. Located in what is now ECDC, they had two classrooms and about 20 students. Many of the first students were dropouts who had been on their own for a year or so and had learned that they needed the diploma to succeed. Also some students had babies. The Alternative School as we know it now was officially started as Horizon when Doug Rigby became principal and organized it into it's own school. (Prior to this time it was considered a part of the High School). ~ Katherine Alexander-Garcia (1-6-17)
Mr. Rigby entered the scene in the fall of 2004 as the “lead teacher” serving as both the coordinator and teaching social studies classes. The alternative classroom was moved from the old BOCES building to the new. He was halfway through his master’s program and very interested in at-risk education. He was also part of an organization called the Community Youth Coalition (CYC). Members of this group were interested in creating a better solution for Evanston’s at-risk student population. Key members of the group were Joy Bell, Wanda Rogers, Mike Williams, Kendra West, and Jim Hissong. The timing was right so Rigby began putting together the research and proposal to create a new accredited alternative school in our district and state.
With permission from the superintendent (Dennis Wilson), and support from Mr. Thomas, Mr. Rigby began working with the Wyoming Department of Education to get the school approved. The proposal was for an alternative junior/senior high school of no more than 70 students. Ultimately, the school was approved in the spring of 2004. New staff were hired to meet the state’s requirement to offer the “basket of goods” which simply represents the nine content areas. Mr. Katchuk (Science), Ms. Lahm (English), Mrs. Ellen Brennan (PE/Health/Art), Gwen Jolley (Vocational Business), Mrs. Brenda Pendleton (Media/Plato/Online), Candi Vincent (Keyboarding/Personal Finance) and Mrs. Kay Barker (Secretary) were all hired for the inaugural 2004-2005 school year. Mr. Blonquist continued to teach math and Mrs. Alexander continued to teach social studies, full-time. Mr. Johnstone came from EHS to offer two sections of foreign language and Mr. Vern Swain came to Horizon to teach Guitar. First graduation was held at Depot Square in Evanston.
The BOCES was a great partner allowing the district to remodel much of the second floor of the building to accommodate the much needed classroom space. The first year we had approximately 50 students total and a graduating class of 10. It was an incredible learning curve but there has never been a better staff to endure the struggles with. The staff had created a family-style atmosphere making the school a tremendously supportive learning environment for students and staff alike. We drew heavily from Mrs. Barker’s curriculum experience and Mr. Katchuk’s experience creating the Oakley School. The members of the CYC continued to be Mr. Rigby’s advisory council through the first couple of years.
Shortly after the school was established, the Wyoming School Facilities Commission (SFC) began evaluating schools for their ability to offer a quality education. Many of our scores were low as we were operating out of an office building. Thus began the process to create a new learning space. There was not always community or full school board support for a new facility as EMS was also in need of renovation or a new space. Prioritization was the discretion of the SFC, not the district so the Horizon plans moved forward. The SFC hired a school planner to work with the staff to design a new facility. There was much debate as to the best location and ultimately the old Pamida building was selected. Staff had significant input into the design of the facility we have today. We had to fight long and hard for the gym and culinary arts areas.
Construction never works as planned as students and staff had to move into the ESC Annex building for about a month and a half while waiting for the new facility to be completed in the fall of 2011. There have been some staff changes over the years but the mission and feel of the school has stayed largely intact.
Mr. Rigby’s involvement in making Horizon a reality is the work he is most proud of to date. He got into administration to change the way students feel about their educational experience. He did not like school because of the “Do as I say, not as I do” montra of traditional schools. He believed that schools should be student-centered rather than adult centered. Rigby believes that Horizon is a place where decisions are made in the best interest of students, not the adults that work there, and for that he is and should be very proud.
“Thanks for the opportunity to travel down memory lane!” ~ Doug Rigby, 6-12 Assistant Superintendent (1-9-17)