Lawrence school district committee proposes creation of alternative high school academy

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Patrick Kelly, left, technical education director for the Lawrence school district, and Bill DeWitt, principal of adult education services and alternative programming, speak to the Lawrence school board during a meeting on Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. Kelly and DeWitt proposed the creation of a college and career academy as an alternative high school option for Lawrence students.

An alternative high school program housed at the Lawrence College and Career Center may help address a drop in the Lawrence school district’s graduation rates, education officials said recently.

Patrick Kelly, director of the LCCC and technical education for the school district, and Bill DeWitt, principal of adult education services and alternative programming, proposed to the school board on Monday the creation of a College and Career Academy as an additional alternative education option for high school students.

The school district previously operated an alternative school from 1974 to 2005. After that school’s closing, the district began offering many other alternative education options.

Some of those options are courses housed at the Lawrence College and Career Center, 2910 Haskell Ave., which opened in 2015. The LCCC programs aim to help students develop skills for in-demand and high-paying jobs by offering tuition-free classes worth college credit, with instruction from business and industry professionals.

Kelly said he has heard from students who take courses at the LCCC that they would like to spend all their time at the facility, an option that is not currently available. However, the creation of the College and Career Academy could change that.

“They just see so much relevance at the (LCCC) with what their interests are, and the idea that we could develop English courses that tie into that is very exciting for them,” he said.

The Lawrence College and Career Center, 2910 Haskell Ave.

Kelly and DeWitt are members of the school board’s Alternative Options Committee, which was tasked with investigating and finding solutions for a recent drop in graduation rates in the school district.

Kelly said in recent years the school district has seen its graduation rate drop by almost 2% — from 84.2% in 2015 to 82.4% in 2018, according to the Kansas State Department of Education reports — while the state’s graduation rate has risen to 87.5% over the same period.

To address this, he said the committee — which was made up of 100 members divided into subcommittees to review alternative program strategies — found the school district may need to create an alternative high school education offering individual plans of study focused on career skill development.

The proposed academy would serve sophomore to senior high school students who choose to enroll. Kelly said the academy could help address factors that lead to students dropping out of high school, such as low motivation, irregular attendance and economic disadvantage, among other factors.

Along with the career-skills education, the academy would also provide daily health and wellness instruction and academic support, research-based behavioral interventions and adult academic mentors, among other support.

DeWitt said the academy may need some enrollment restrictions, such as all students showing lack of interest in the standard education program and making sure 50% of the enrolled students are demonstrating two of three issues: irregular attendance, behind in credits needed for graduation and academic underachievement. However, DeWitt said the academy could also enroll students who are technically performing well in class but benefit greatly from a different educational environment.

Kelly noted the academy would not be a separate high school but an additional program for Lawrence High School and Free State High School students. That means the students who attend the academy would still be able to participate in school activities and athletics for their home high school.

“If (the academy) doesn’t work out for them, they could go back to their home high school,” Kelly said. “I think it’s something that is in the best interest of our students.”

The school board members said they were excited about the concept and directed district staff to work to develop the program.

“I think it’s fantastic and much needed,” board member Jessica Beeson said.

But much work still remains before the academy can become a reality. School district staff will need to develop curriculum and courses, fill staffing needs and provide a selection of students. Kelly said parking and classroom space at the LCCC may also need to be addressed before establishing the program.

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