The closing of Lawrence Alternative High School could result in a better showing for the school district as it strives to meet standards of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Some students at the alternative school are saying they will drop out if they don't like the new alternative programs being designed for use in the district's other schools. And their absence could boost the district's overall test scores -- a key component of the act's requirements.
"If a significant number of kids drop out, then they won't bring the scores down," said Dick Wedel, a former social studies teacher at LAHS, adding that he hopes they don't drop out. "That's one way to get better scores."
Whether that comes to pass is anyone's guess.
The approximately 80-student alternative high school at 2600 W. 26th St. will close at the end of the academic year.
The alternative program will instead be divided among other district schools, including Free State High and Lawrence High schools and an early-intervention program for struggling ninth-graders at the junior highs.
Ashton Calls Him, an LAHS junior, said "quite a few" of his classmates had said they would drop out if they didn't like the new alternative program.
"They're hoping the new program is going to work," the 19-year-old said.
But he said FSHS and LHS were too big for some students.
"It was kind of weird to walk into class and the teacher asks you who you are," Calls Him said of his semester at FSHS before coming to the alternative school. "It takes her two or three weeks to know who you are."
Wedel said many alternative high students thought nobody cared about them when they were at FSHS or LHS.
"I think it's true that some of those kids will not go back to another high school. They will choose to drop out," he said. "I would hope they would give a fair trial to the new program."
Supt. Randy Weseman said he decided to make the changes based on costs, student performance and two years of study.
The district wasn't getting good enough test scores from students to justify the $750,000 to $1 million annual cost to operate LAHS, he said.
About 10 percent of its students have been reaching "proficient" or higher levels on state tests and district tests in reading, math, science, social studies and writing.
Students are referred to the school through a counselor and administrators. Some were referred after falling behind in regular classwork because of illness. Others had truancy problems. Still others felt lost in the larger FSHS and LHS environments.
The new alternative programs will include mentoring and personalized learning plans. Some students will take classes at the high schools exclusively with other students in the program, while others will be in traditional classes.
Weseman has said he wants to expand the program to include 250 or 300 students. He said that won't spread the program too thin because the district is becoming more efficient.
"That's what the Legislature wants us to do," he said.
Students also can enroll in the district's diploma completion program or the Lawrence Virtual School, Weseman said. Those programs give students individual attention from teachers, he said.
Weseman said he would close the alternative school even if not for the No Child Left Behind Act.
"I don't need the federal government to tell me we need to help all kids succeed," he said.
Under the law, all students must be proficient in reading and math by 2014. States set their own standards, but the federal law requires schools to improve test scores yearly.
LAHS students' test scores affect LHS and FSHS because they are integrated into their scores for the federal measuring standard. The alternative school's math and reading scores were significantly lower in 2004 than the district high school average.
"Those two schools don't have any say in how (LAHS) kids are receiving services," Weseman said. "There's an accountability problem."
But he said alternative high scores were not the reason LHS failed to make law's benchmark "adequate yearly progress" in 2004.
What tests show
Wedel, the former LAHS teacher, said standardized tests didn't reflect what students really knew. He said many of his former students hated standardized tests.
"They'd failed at it so long, so they just refused to try again," Wedel said. "I know our successes were not in those test scores.
"We all rejoiced when kids' grades would come up, and they'd have jobs and come back and tell us about getting married."