Districts discuss alternative school

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— The biggest challenge to bringing an alternative school to the Hayden area may be in name only.

The Hayden and South Routt school districts would like to offer their students an alternative school, but they must first convince the public that such a school fills a need for students who do not fit in a traditional school setting and require something else an alternative.

Kathy Hockett, a former school district candidate, recently asked students what came to mind when they heard "alternative school" mentioned.

Hockett, who often substitute teaches at Hayden schools, said she wanted input from the people who might have the most to gain from such an option.

"They thought it was like going to a different school, or that it was like a detention school," she said. "That's when I realized that we've got a lot of educating to do on this issue."

An alternative school does not target discipline problems or bad students.

Rather, it simply provides an alternative for students who, for whatever reason, may be struggling in the traditional classroom. In general, alternative schools include smaller classes and are self-paced, allowing students to make up credits as quickly as they can work through the curriculum.

Nationwide, alternative schools have become a primary tool school districts use to reduce dropout rates.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for kids who function differently and can't really fit in at school," Hockett said. "It's not necessarily for the troublemakers."

The abandoned Twentymile Coal Co. headquarters about 18 miles south of Hayden is the preferred site for the alternative school.

Hayden Super-

intendent Scott Mader said a fall start date would be ideal, but securing a building and finding a way to finance another school by that time is wishful thinking.

Moffat County, Kremmling, Glenwood Springs and Meeker all offer alternative schools for their high school students, although middle school students might sometimes be included.

Providing one alternative school for two districts makes sense, Mader said.

"We thought that if we could share the risks and the expenses, then we could make this happen, because neither of us is swimming in money," he said.

Mader stressed the cost of an alternative school would not be carried by either district, because funding from the state, such as energy impact grants, could pay for the project.

Some parents have voiced concern that funding the new school would detract from the district's already tight budget, he said, but it's important South Routt and Hayden communities realize their school districts will not be footing the bill.

Transportation to and from the alternative school would not impose an extra burden, he added, because both Hayden and South Routt bus routes run within a few miles of each other.

Mader was cautious about firming up expectations the two districts hold for an alternative school.

Before they obtain a building and apply for grants, high school students must be surveyed to determine how many might opt for an alternative school, he said.

"That's where the rubber meets the road," Mader said. "We've got to come to a fairly solid estimate of how many kids might be attending. It's a big undertaking."

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