Hayden A recent decision by Hayden school officials to forgo plans for an alternative school only reinforced the resolve of those who want to see some kind of alternative for students who do not fit in the traditional classroom setting.
"We're still committed," said Kurt Frentress, president of the Hayden School Board. "We've got to give these kids alternatives."
The school board passed a resolution at its last board meeting that cut short the district's plans to partner with the South Routt School District to establish an alternative school.
Now the board and administrators intend to focus on finding other solutions that encourage students to stay and finish high school.
Hayden began experimenting with one solution last fall when it implemented a new curriculum that offered students that dropped out of high school a second chance and students on the verge of abandoning their studies a reason to stay.
S.M.A.R.T. Schools gives students that are no longer on track to graduate an opportunity to catch up with their peers by retaking failed classes via the Internet. Of the 17 students who enrolled in the program, nine are still completing the coursework.
Two students will graduate on time this May, thanks to S.M.A.R.T. Schools. The other seven are now on track to graduate within four years.
Those numbers may be small, but they represent a turnaround that Hayden High School Principal Nick Schafer hopes such non-traditional programs can foster in the coming years.
The district's decision not to move forward with an alternative school disappointed Schafer, but he sees the setback only as an incentive to find other viable ways to keep students in school.
"I've had kids come to me and say, 'When I'm 16, I'm out of here,'" he said. "If we can make it interesting, they may just happen to stick it out and get a diploma."
The district is looking at ways to promote accountability of students enrolled in S.M.A.R.T. Schools.
One of the district staff members currently monitors students' progress on their home computers with weekly telephone calls.
Hayden Superintendent Scott Mader said the district would like to bring the students to campus more often to work in a computer lab under the supervision of a part-time employee.
The part-time supervisor could answer students' questions, and a central meeting area would promote student interaction, he said. Mader stressed the implementation of programs that help students that do not fit in the traditional classroom setting would come gradually.
Students that drop out of high school also cost districts money in per pupil funding. But the repercussions are more than financial setbacks, Mader said.
"It's not only a revenue loss," he said. "It's a loss to the district, the community and the state."
"We should try to keep these kids in school."
Soroco High School adopted S.M.A.R.T. Schools in January. Six of the 16 students who dropped out of high school since last fall currently participate in the program at home.
The program's short run does not yet give the district enough room to gauge its success, principal Richard Coleman said.
The district, however, has considered expanding the concept next year to provide a "learning lab" that would allow students to take a wider variety of courses online.
"What we are finding today is that students' needs are a lot more diverse than they once were," Coleman said.
Despite Hayden's decision to pursue other options, the South Routt School District will push ahead with plans to provide an alternative school for its students.
Superintendent Steve Jones said his district would pursue an alternative school with or without the backing of Hayden. A recent survey to determine students' interest in an alternative school received about 15 positive responses. The need exists and must be addressed, Jones said.
"We have a number of students whose needs can't be met in a traditional school setting," he said. "The board and the school are very interested in moving forward."
When the two districts collaborated on the project, they considered basing the school in the abandoned Twenty Mile Coal headquarters, located about 18 miles south of Hayden.
Now school officials and administrators in South Routt are looking at sites closer to the middle and high school campus in Oak Creek. The South Routt School Board recently passed a resolution that stated its intent to continue its plans to establish an alternative school.
The school board understands and respects the decision of Hayden school officials to withdraw their district from those plans, said Bob Logan, who sits on the South Routt School Board.
"It was just an evolution," he said. "As things progressed, their school board decided it was in their community's best interest to develop their own instead of collaborating."
Supporters of an alternative school in South Routt intend to regroup and look at the options now available to the district, Logan said.
An alternative school for South Routt students could realistically open next January, Jones said.
"We're not going to put it off forever," he said.
Frentress said the long-term costs of maintaining an alternative school concerned the Hayden School Board.
Grants might cover the initial start-up costs, he said, but the expense of another school could eventually drain some of the district's resources.
The school board instead will concentrate on improving measures already in place to ensure that all students leave the district with a high school diploma.
Students like Lucas McElroy should give the district reason not to lose that focus. The 16-year-old considered dropping out of high school last year before he decided a high school diploma was worth pursuing.
Quitting early would have been a mistake, he said. This summer he will catch up on some classes with S.M.A.R.T. Schools.
"It's a change from the traditional school environment," he said.
McElroy discovered a career that intrigued him enough to continue his studies. Now he intends to stick with school and earn his high school diploma so he can attend a trade school in Florida, where he will study to be an underwater welder.
"Last year, I wasn't interested in school at all," he said. "But I'm doing a lot better this year.
"It just seems a lot easier."