Tonganoxie ponders alternative school
Students caught in the twists and turns on the road to a high school education may never find their way to a diploma.
Nationally, one in eight high school students fails to graduate. And in rural areas such as Tonganoxie, the ratio is about one in four, said Darren Neas, assistant principal of Tonganoxie Junior High School.
Neas met with school board members at the April board meeting to discuss the possibility of establishing an alternative school classroom for the junior high.
"It seems like it's something we talk about every year," Neas said. "Some years it's worse than others. We see kids who we're really worried about whether they will make it to graduation."
The cost of initiating an alternative classroom for the junior high, Neas estimated, would be about $30,000 and would likely include four to 10 students.
"We're talking about average students who are in danger of not making it through high school," Neas said.
Board member Ron Moore said he didn't think an alternative school was a good idea that sometimes it would be wiser to expel a student.
"I think it's a disgrace that a public school is in such a situation that we've go to have an alternative classroom for 14- and 15-year-olds," Moore said. "I think these kids need to toe the mark and need to behave themselves in the classroom. If they can't, in the worst cases, it's 'see you later.'"
Neas said he's concerned about students who are expelled.
"I sit at home at night and wonder where these kids are, what's happening to these kids," Neas said.
There may be valid reasons why students have trouble keeping up. A frequent common denominator, Neas said, is their reading level.
"Truthfully, most of the time I don't have a problem expelling a kid," Neas said. "But it's hard when you have a kid sitting in front of you reading at the second-grade level."
Richard Dean, board member, said it's likely some students have been in the same predicament through every year of their education.
"And that is bound to make you feel bad," Dean said. "If you're a participant in a class and you're not keeping up, what could make you feel worse than seeing it continue year after year."
Board member Darlyn Hansen said alternative classrooms provide the benefit of a small class size.
"In the alternative schools I've been familiar with, the kids are those square pegs trying to fit into a round hole," Hansen said. "A lot of kids don't do well in the larger class settings, for whatever reason."
And, board members considered whether an alternative classroom would be more like recreation than academics.
"Could some kids see this as a way to get out of the rigid instruction that they have in the mainstream?" board member Rick Lamb asked.
And, Moore said: "I guess I'm just being na, but why in the world can't these kids be controlled in the classroom? They have the opportunity to learn as much as anybody else I think in an alternative program, they put them in there to get them out of the middle of the road."
Board members agreed more information is needed.
"I'd like to see the effects of alternative schools," Dean said. "Have the students improved in their reading and math?"
Sue Walker, the at-risk teacher at Tonganoxie High School, said reading and math are the primary focus of the class.
"A lot of my students who are in the lower reading levels may not be able to read, but they've gotten by by being great listeners and being visual learners," Walker said. "They can get by visually and you don't pick up on the problems until much later. They're not troublemakers and they look and act like everyone else."
Walker said she would like to see Tonganoxie establish a K-12 alternative school.
"My vision is five years down the road to maybe have that established," Walker said. "It's going to take a lot of work to get it to that level."
Neas said if an alternative education program is ever approved for Tonganoxie, regular classroom teachers will have input into the establishment of the program.
"Teachers will be in on the process, and everything is going to be directed to putting these kids on the right path to where they can be successful in their adult lives," Neas said.
He doesn't expect anything to happen soon.
"All I'm doing right now is taking people's temperature on it," Neas added. "It's not a done deal by any means but it's something I'm willing to work toward."