Brookings High School administrators are proposing the creation of a new alternative high school to help the district deal with a rising number of failing grades, truancies and other issues.

At the Jan. 29 Brookings School Board meeting, BHS Principal Paul von Fischer and Vice Principal Shelly Jensen presented statistics about failing and truant students and suggested the new alternative high school, Brookings Area Learning and Career Center, for those students to attend starting next fall.

In the fall semester of the 2019-2020 academic year, there were 156 failing grades of 87 students. During the same semester, due to some of these failing grades, a total of 67 students will not be able to advance to the next grade. 

That follows two previous years of increasing levels of failing students: in the 2017-2018 academic year there were a total of 70 students not advancing to the next grade, and in the 2018-2019 academic year there were a total of 91 students who did not advance to the next grade.

Of the 87 students who had failing grades during the 2019-2020 fall semester, 30 of the students were randomly selected to evaluate their reading levels. All of the selected students were “reading at least two grade levels below their peers,” according to the research presented by Jensen.

Jensen also recorded the amount of truancies and office referrals over the past year and a half. In the fall semester of the 2019-2020 academic year, there were 1,209 truancies from 153 students. There have also been 2,954 office referrals of 347 students during last semester, meaning that 347 students have been sent to the office as a consequence for an action; four particular students have had more than 80 office referrals.

Twenty-five students have had mandated out-of-school suspension 39 times. Von Fischer and Jensen said at the Jan. 29 meeting that vandalism, vaping, drug addiction, mental health and obsession with social media are all combating the success of high school students now more than ever.

Jensen said BHS is currently not addressing “all learners,” as the Brookings School District motto says. She said that while BHS is a top school in the state, there is substantial room to improve. The school is responsible for these at-risk students, and they need to be “meeting them where they’re at.”

An alternative high school is equally accredited and held to the same graduation requirements as a “regular” school; but the difference is in the method of how the curriculum is taught. 

Jensen said in an interview with The Brookings Register that alternative high schools offer a more structured environment with a Mass Customized Learning curriculum and are designated to begin educationally where the student in need is.

“We feel like we need a program that’s supervised a little bit more. We feel like we have – in the high school there’s a bit of freedom, and there are several doors in the building and we can’t manage every door,” Jensen said. “The main reason why we were moving toward an alternative program are definitely the failing grades, the behavior management, and just simply the safety for them.”

The current plan for the alternative high school includes:

• 80-100 available spots

• Boys Town Education Model, a social-building technique used by teachers that “emphasizes preventive and proactive practices rather than reactive responses”

• Mass Customized Learning curriculums

• 8:15 a.m.-1 p.m. school day with Friday being a homework make-up day

• All core class (English, math, science, social science) teachers will remain as the consecutive subject teacher throughout the student’s high school career

• Located in the CTE Building on the south side of BHS

• Special education teacher, a career and mental health counselor, principal, and potentially a dean of students

• Reading intervention

• Smaller class sizes

• Increased supervision and support

• A building with fewer exits so that students can be more easily monitored and truancy can be deterred

Students would qualify for the alternative school if they have: “chronic truancy, continual academic failure, frequent noncompliance, pregnancy/teen parenthood, mental health (issues), administrator referral, and Teacher Assistance Team (the group of teachers who all have a particular student that can determine what the student’s needs are),” according to Jensen’s presentation.

“Usually by week two or three, we can tell which students are struggling and we can get them moved right away,” Jensen said. “We don’t want them to get through a failed semester and getting behind.”

Should the Brookings School Board vote for the alternative high school to be in the CTE Building, the current plan is to move some teachers over to the CTE Building from the current high school and move the current CTE teachers over to BHS, except for the automotive and building trades classes. This adjustment saves money, but Jensen said that it will increase core BHS class sizes.

“As of right now, with our current funding model, we’re going to have to take our teachers from the high school … and be planted at the alternative school,” Jensen said. “Which means we would have to increase BHS class sizes in order to make this happen.”

Jensen said that despite the school district’s desire to keep class sizes manageable and lower, the need for the alternative high school outweighs the need for smaller class sizes.

“Whenever you’re running two buildings, then we would share our capital outlay and our general fund dollars,” Jensen said. “Then the pot of money we have been normally running with the high school will now have to fund two places. That’s definitely going to impact all of us for sure.”

“We needed this yesterday,” Jensen added. 

There is no official date for school board approval of the alternative school, but Jensen anticipates a vote within the next few months so that teachers can transition over to the CTE Building this summer to begin this fall.

There are potential plans for the alternative school to be located off the BHS campus as it has been in the past. Jensen said that eventually, should the alternative school be approved, the increase in students needing the program will outgrow the available space in the CTE Building “in at least two years,” Jensen said.

For more information, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=16aENvmyeu4 to watch the video of the Jan. 29 meeting.

Contact Matthew Rhodes at mrhodes@brookingsregister.com.

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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