Kathy Smith and Bill Gallo

Kathy Smith and Bill Gallo

When Bill Gallo accepted the job as principal of Lake Highlands Freshman Center in 2008, he probably didn’t expect to be the end of the line. This is the LHFC’s last year as a stand-alone school. Next year, the building becomes part of Lake Highlands High School with LHHS Principal Frank Miller as its leader.

Bill Gallo has a new gig.

“I’ll be doing a couple of different things,” Gallo told me, “but my first order of business will be to establish a non-traditional program for the district. We’re identifying Richardson ISD students who, for whatever reason, may be behind in credits and an 8-hour school day just isn’t working for them. They may be struggling in the classroom, they may be supporting their families, they may have dealt with a pregnancy, they may have difficulty socially – any number of reasons. We want to get them over the finish line.”

Much of the coursework will be accomplished online in a self-paced environment, with students catching up or getting ahead based on their needs or wants. Gallo will head up the new morning and afternoon programs as well as the currently existing night school.

“We are pumped. We’ve got a chance to change some lives here,” said Gallo. “We plan to include some programs like job interviewing skills, character building, social skills, mentoring – many of the programs we offer at the high schools, we want to offer to these kids. We want to get them on their feet so that they can go on to their chosen fields in college or the work force. I think it’s going to be a game changer for some kids.”

Until the new facility opens in the fall of 2017 next to the RISD Administration Building on Greenville Avenue, classes will be held at Berkner High.

And what will the new program be called?

“We’re still working on that,” laughed Gallo. “We have a couple of names in mind, but we’re still searching. We’ve gone back and forth between naming it after a person and just naming it based on what we’ll do there. But the new building will be state-of-the art, open spaces, flexible furniture, modern technology – it will be wonderful.”

Though the district no longer plans an early college high school per se (an idea floated in earlier discussions), Gallo’s “second hat” will be to ramp up RISD’s dual credit program, which allows high school students to take courses which earn college hours.

“The district is expanding dual credit, and that will be done at Richland College. All four RISD high schools will participate in that, and there will be shuttles to take students to the Richland campus.”

More dual credit courses will be available under the new program, says Gallo, and more students will be traveling to the Richland’s campus to take them instead of learning from Richland-certified teachers in their home campus classrooms. The opportunities and advantages, said Gallo, are many.

“The number one benefit is cost – the student and parent save money on college tuition, especially when you get your basic coursework out of the way, and our counselors can help make sure the courses are transferrable. It also gives our students a chance to see what a junior college campus looks like and what teaching is like there. What a college-going environment feels like.”

Personally, though, Gallo admits he’s feeling a bit nostalgic.

“I’m going to miss the Lake Highlands Freshman Center,” said Gallo. “I’ve loved it here. The support here has been second to none, the people are second to none. They’ve been very supportive of me.”

Kathy Smith, assistant to every principal at LHFC since it opened in 1998, will go with Gallo to the new program.

Moving forward, Gallo said he’s leaving his building in fine hands.

“We’ve known for more than a year, since the Town Hall meetings and since it was reported that the freshman center would merge with the high school – I guess that was April 1st, April Fools, right?” joked Gallo. “Since that time, Frank Miller and I have had a lot of time to sit down and think about what was best for a transition and to prepare the staff. Not much will be different. There will be some personnel changes. The freshman kids will still eat in the freshman cafeteria. We’re keeping an eye on space issues, and some Career and Technology courses may move over here because the high school is strapped for space. We looked at similarities and redundancies – we’re not losing any teachers, luckily – but we’re now under one master schedule, and we looked at improving day-to-day logistics. We tried to be mindful of what 9-12 would look like, down the road.”

The first pep rally including ninth graders was held this year in October for Homecoming.

“We held it in the stadium,” said Gallo. “I don’t know what numbers will be like, but I know at Berkner we had separate pep rallies because of space. We may have to do that here, too.”

“Or, Mr. Miller will,” Gallo corrected with a smile.

“I think the transition will be seamless and very positive. It’s going to be hard to go, but I will be seeing it from afar. I will still be working with Lake Highlands kiddos.

“I want to say to this community, I’ve been here 8 years, and I’m sad to be leaving our fantastic PTSA. Our moms and dads have been so supportive. I’m a member of the Exchange Club, and the Exchange Club is second to none. All of the families who have come through, who I’ve gotten to know over the years, I will miss each and every one of them.”

And we will miss you, Mr. Gallo. Godspeed.