Alternative opportunity

Published:

Local judges who last year formed a nine-member task force promoting one city-county alternative school to educate the at-risk students of this community had hoped the institution might be ready to operate in the 2013-2014 school year. With just four months left in 2012 and the school systems still undecided how to make it happen, the educators got another nudge this week. Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd reiterated his belief that one school rather than two could better encourage young people to continue their education despite behavioral and academic difficulties.

The school boards then called on county and city superintendents Chrissy Jones and Rich Crowe to confer with alternative school directors Melissa Rogers and Alan Spade and report back in November.

We hope the two districts, with a history of spirited competition in both athletic and academic pursuits, can reach agreement on this important undertaking.

What the judges favor is a joint approach, which existed before the city concluded last year it was getting the short end of the stick and decided it would no longer accept county students at the old Wilkinson Street School, where the alternative classes were held. Crowe explained that even though the county was paying his system $120,000 a year to accept 22 alternative students, it lost $200,000 a year on the deal. That’s a valid concern.

Breaking up didn’t help much. Records showed the total cost of running two alternative schools was actually a little higher than having one school. Some state aid that previously went to the joint school was not available for the city program.

The judges got involved because they worried more of the problem students diverted into alternative classrooms might end up in their courtrooms, either as offenders or as crime victims. It’s not unusual for students who drop out or just muddle through high school to continue causing problems as adults. Too many tell themselves that criminal pursuits are more lucrative. At worst, they may end up in prison, individually costing the taxpayers an estimated $20,000 a year in corrections expenses.

In the year since the local systems began separate programs, they’ve adopted disparate policies. Both emphasize alternative education as an essential means of keeping kids in school and raising the high school graduation rate, and online credit recovery is one method they use. The county has moved its recovery service from the alternative venue of The Academy to its two high schools. Frankfort Independent conducts its program at Wilkinson Street, now named Capital City Prep. The Academy also handles day treatment of teenagers referred by the juvenile justice system or the courts.

The superintendents and alternative school directors must find ways not only to reunite in one facility, as yet unchosen, but to make it work better than before. This means neither district should end up at a financial disadvantage, as the city did, and both should try to inspire troubled students to rise above their difficulties, even aspire to excellence. Don’t make the mistake of expecting too little of them.

Ideally, alternative school should challenge under-achieving students to pursue avenues of hope and opportunity, not stumble down a rusty bridge to nowhere.

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