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SCSD #1 to add ‘alternative setting’

Posted: Monday, Dec 5th, 2011

The seemingly largest goal of Sublette County School District No. 1(SCSD#1) for the impending years presented at its strategic planning presentation last week is to prepare students for whatever career path it is they choose – and that includes keeping them until they graduate from high school, even if it means removing “at-risk” students from the normal curriculum.

While 2010 graduation rates were the lowest they have been in the past three years – hovering between 80 and 85 percent, Superintendent Jay Harnack concludes that they would have a higher number if students did not face obstacles that come with living within a transient community.

These include students leaving for other states or schools without notice and students coming to a certain grade with a lack of credits for timely graduation.

“Reality is, from our perspective, kids who start with us and go through – I’m willing to bet we’re at 92 to 97 percent,” he said.

The district hopes to correct these and discipline issues (expelled students also count as dropouts) that might result in a student not graduating. Harnack discussed adding “alternative setting” schooling for grades 6-12, to which Encana has donated $270,000.

Harnack said the “at-risk” definition focuses on students who are in jeopardy of not graduating, but the factors might include a number of different identifiers such as discipline, attendance, behavior and/or health issues including social anxiety, which was one possibility on the spectrum of behaviors Harnack pointed out at the meeting.

While students would not be required to choose to learn “alternative” skills as part of their curriculum, the setting will offer classes revolving around the energy industry and “other local jobs” so that they can enter the workforce near home with more ease. While the end goal is the same as the “regular setting” in that the district wants to prepare students for college or any other choice, according to Harnack, he adds that reality cannot be ignored.

“We do recognize that many of our students will transition to local jobs in the energy industry and that many of those same students are at-risk,” he told the Examiner. “I think it makes sense to offer those skills in the alternative setting.”

As of now the exact setting for an alternative school and the identifiers by which students will be chosen are not specifically determined, but Harnack is adamant this opportunity, one the district has hoped for some time to offer, will give the district and the students more chances.

“The reality is that now we have a hole in options,” he said Tuesday, adding that with around 325 students enrolled right now, he would guess that about 30 would be placed in alternative schooling. And, while it is not completely decided, he does not see students or their parents

determining the placement, but rather the school’s administration.

“We have yet to determine the intake processes,” he said. “However we do not envision it as a school of choice.”

Revenues collected from the new compressed natural gas station funded by excess re-capture money, open for public and private use, will additionally fund the program, as well as offer the district classroom technology. The school has an additional goal to convert all buses to natural gas for among other reasons, the “reduction of transportation costs” and the promotion of “environmental stewardship.”

While discounting most standardized testing – like PAWS, as any indicator of a student’s predicted success or even (with the exception of ACT/SAT) of any meaning to students – Harnack disclosed a number of ways the school will look to “prepare students for life.”

This includes an upgraded curriculum to a four-by-four core curriculum, with four years of math, English, science and social studies required, bringing SCSD#1 to almost the exact same as the new University of Wyoming admission standards.

“Whether or not a child wants to go to college we need to support them in case they decide to do that,” he said. “If we haven’t gotten them prepared then they’re stuck. ... If we set that as our bar then I think we’ve done our job.”

Harnack did, however, present PAWS scores – which he discounted for a number of reasons, including the inclusion of all students, whether or not they have a disability.

In discussing writing scores which were at 78.85 percent (down from 79.17 percent the previous year), he added the scores would show “almost 100 percent of students meeting standards” if one were to remove the 14 to 15 percent of “special education kids who take the tests as well.”

Overall, Harnack said the district has increased the number of students achieving proficiency or advanced scores on the PAWS reading and math assessments.

“There is room for improvement, but we are very proud of the scores we have,” he said.

Also discussed were changes in how the hours of the school day will be used. Class scheduling will be a “straight seven-period day” and some minutes will be added to the high school and middle school days. Longer lunch periods are likelihood, as well as an additional advisory period for freshman.

In this class, as well as what Harnack hopes to instill in all students, a focus will be seven traits he says are predictive of achievement. They include: “Self Control – School Work,” “Self Control – Interpersonal,” “Gratitude,” “Curiosity,” "Optimism,” “Collaboration” and “Grit.”

Harnack sees this as extremely important for the district’s success, fixing what are potential challenges for a majority of today’s youth.

“Kids are told they’re perfect their first eight years of life and when they then meet a challenge they’re so scared they won’t meet those adjective terms their parents put on them they decide they’d rather just quit,” he told the room Tuesday, adding the goal was to give children the confidence to learn to fail and to learn from their failures.

All of the documents and presentations for the strategic plan including goals, areas of success and graphs of tests scores, can be found on SCSD#1’s website.

For the complete article see the 12-06-2011 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 12-06-2011 paper.

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