Harrisonburg Schools working toward opening of Rocktown High School

By Colby Johnson

Published: Feb. 8, 2024 at 5:54 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 8, 2024 at 6:32 PM EST

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - It’s an exciting time for Harrisonburg City Public Schools. Construction of the new Rocktown High School is now complete. Builders finished up the project at the start of the new year. Six months from its opening, the school division is working to get Rocktown ready to welcome its first students.

WHSV got a tour of the new school on Thursday.

“It actually started long before my time here. I came here five years ago as superintendent and as soon as I walked through the door plans were handed to me and ‘we’ve got to get this done, we’ve got to do this’ and they were absolutely right this had to get done,” said HCPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Richards. “Harrisonburg is a great place to live, it’s a great place to work, have a business, raise a family, but we had an overcrowded high school. So that I think was a deterrent to people thinking this might be a great place to raise a family.”

Rocktown High School will bring an end to the overcrowding at Harrisonburg High School, which has been a big problem over the last several years.

“HHS faculty, staff, and students deserve a lot of recognition for making the best of a very difficult situation for so long. Relief is on the way and we’re very excited about that,” said Richards.

The building has high ceilings and wide open spaces that will provide new opportunities for students at both city high schools.

“As we kind of alleviate some of the congestions at Harrisonburg so that we can have two open high schools I think the light, the spacing, and just the ability for kids to have room to grow and learn and interact is just going to be amazing,” said Tamara Mines, the Principal at Rocktown High School.

One of the priorities in the design of the new school was to have lots of open space and areas that would create intentional collisions to allow students to collaborate in their learning experience.

“To see the building from the studs up and watch it grow and take shape kind of helped shape this idea of as we know students learn best when they’re collaborating and teachers learn best when they can facilitate learning. The design of the building kind of opens itself up to that,” said Mines.

Over the next six months, the district still needs to bring furniture and computers into the building and finalize programming. There are also decisions to be made when it comes to staff assignments.

“We’ve already made decisions in terms of which staff at HHS will move over to Rocktown and which staff will stay at HHS. We still have a few loose ends with that so we’re working through those things but then there is some more nuanced work that needs to be done. How will departments be set up, who will the department leaders be?” said Richards.

Richards said there are also a few staff positions still to be filled.

“We do need to hire more staff. We want two comprehensive high schools, we want students to be able to choose to have the same courses available to them at each school. So there is some hiring that needs to be done, right now we’re putting together a budget for that,” he said.

Rocktown High School includes interdisciplinary learning spaces throughout the building and will give students many opportunities to collaborate. Principal Tamara Mines said she hopes to make the school a place where students will feel at home.

“We’re kind of operating on three tenants: belong, believe, and achieve. So when we talk about having a sense of a space that they belong and that there is a building but also a culture and a climate of belonging we want to extend that development of the community here,” said Mines. “Once we know that our kids feel a space that they belong because they will be the origin story of Rocktown they can then believe all of the amazing things that we’re going to provide opportunity for but that they can access. Then we will see the achievement soar.”

HCPS plans to begin to offer tours of the new school in the spring to families whose children will attend Rocktown.

“We can’t wait to have you here, we can’t wait to show you this amazing facility. So some of these upcoming dates will be published where we will have tours in the evening for families and the community to come through but we’re also making sure that the opportunity is here. We want to build and grow with the community,” said Mines.

Copyright 2024 WHSV. All rights reserved.

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