Agriscience could prove a winner for Region 12 Agriscience Academy would open opportunity

The proposal to create an agriscience academy at Shepaug Valley School in Region 12 is a creative way to solve an intractable problem while simultaneously opening educational opportunities for high school students in this area.

The problem for Shepaug is a steeply declining enrollment, as in most suburban and rural areas in the state.

The three towns comprising the district -- Washington, Bridgewater and Roxbury -- are unlikely to see a sudden increase in high school-age students.

From 2003 to 2013, the Region 12 district experienced a 31.9 percent decline in enrollment, from 1,070 students to 796. By 2023, enrollment is projected to be 461 -- if nothing were to change.

Those dwindling numbers, along with longstanding concerns about consolidation of the three elementary schools, led to a rejection last spring of necessary repairs at Shepaug Valley.

The opportunities with a new agriscience science, technology, engineering and math program are manifold, not just for the school but also for the area.

Presently, students in seven western Connecticut towns who are interested in agriscience must travel to Nonnewaug High School in Woodbury.

The interest is so high, however, only 60 of the approximately 120 who apply each year can be accepted.

An agriscience academy at Shepaug would be open to students from Danbury, Bethel, Newtown, Brookfield, New Milford, New Fairfield and Sherman, as well as the three Region 12 towns.

Superintendent of Schools Pat Cosentino projects 250 students a year could be in the program. That would nicely buttress academic classes, which agriscience students would also take, as well as music, art and sports.

Agriscience has grown from its agricultural roots to now include fields such as veterinary science and biotechnology.

Clearly, such a program at Shepaug would benefit many.

Several important steps must be taken, however, before the program could begin, possibly in the fall of 2018.

First, the Region 12 Board of Education must -- and should -- approve the proposal expected to be presented by Cosentino in coming weeks.

The state Board of Education must also say yes for what would be the 20th such program in Connecticut.

Prospects would then be promising, especially with support from Nonnewaug's principal, Bill Davenport, and the dean of the College of Agriculture at the University of Connecticut.

To accommodate the program, an expansion and upgrades at Shepaug Valley School would be required. The state could reimburse from 80 to 95 percent of that cost.

Firm numbers are needed before Region 12 taxpayers would vote on the expense in referendum.

Many steps are to be faced, but none appears insurmountable.

A new agriscience program at Shepaug would open more seats for students in western Connecticut while quite possibly sending a lifeline to the school district.

It would be win-win all the way around.