Oak Ridge has an alternative school, which for some years served the purpose of being sort of the last stop before reform school. If students are expelled (usually for zero-tolerance offenses), they are usually permitted to attend the alternative school rather than just drop out.
It still serves that purpose, but over the last few years, we’ve been moving toward making it truly an alternative — a place that also serves those students who, for whatever reason, just can’t function in the big, open environment at the high school. Beginning about a year ago, it also became home to our credit recovery program, whereby students who had failed classes necessary for graduation could make up those credits in an online format and still graduate on time.
The alternative school is housed in the old Daniel Arthur building on Emory Valley Road. The facility was built as a school, but is in poor condition at this point, and not an optimal design for this purpose. The section of the building that houses the alternative school has exterior doors to each classroom; the plumbing is unreliable, and the electrical system is maxed-out.
On the other hand, with completion of the high school renovations, we will have an entirely empty, reasonably new building adjacent to the high school campus within a few weeks. Designed as home to career and technical classes (what we used to call "vocational" until the term developed negative connotations), it’s a good facility. We no longer teach cosmetology or automotive repair at ORHS (now with health sciences, networking, CAD, and other subjects having taken their place), and the career-and-tech classrooms are integrated with the rest of the high school. As they should be.
After a lengthy discussion last night (an hour and a half?), we made the decision to move the alternative school to G Building, adjacent to the high school.
There are three pages of solid reasons for the move, and only one that gives pause: will the closer proximity to ORHS (adjacent, actually) create any danger of students assigned to the alternative school for disciplinary reasons, mixing with the general student body?
I believe that the answer is no. Roger Robinson, our alternative school principal, is a gifted educator with a calling to work with struggling and difficult students. Chuck Carringer, the ORHS principal, has proven himself at ORHS. Working together, I have absolutely no doubts that they will devise strategies to accomplish the necessary separation for those students who should be separate, while allowing access to both facilities for those who need it.
(continued.. a few hours later)
As I noted in the meeting yesterday, I’d had a couple of phone calls over the weekend after Bob Fowler’s article ran on Friday. Both callers had concerns about "those kids" being too close to the high school. This afternoon, I had an e-mail to the same effect (excerpt as follows):
It seems to me that the administration is attempting to make the Alternative School more convenient and attractive for the Alternative School students. However, the reality is that the Alternative School students have forfeited their rights when they took what ever action they took to get them placed into the alternative program in the first place. It’s great to try to provided the same level of education and educational atmosphere that the rest of the school has. However, that should not be done if there is the slightest concern for the rest of the students.
Seems fair enough, right?
First, what most people do not realize is that not all of the Alternative School students are there because of disciplinary reasons. Of those who are, most are there because they did something stupid — showing up at a school event under the influence, even just skipping school too many times. Some got caught with drugs. Some got frustrated and told a teacher to "f— off." A few are there for violent offenses, and they are receiving strong guidance in areas like impulse control in addition to their three R’s.
Our students at ORHS, and society in general, will be safer if we do not abandon and fail these students. Furthermore, the credit recovery programs based in the alternative school are of benefit to ORHS students, some of whom are not now able to access them because they don’t have transportation to the Daniel Arthur building during the school day.
I asked blunt questions last night, and I’m comfortable that my children (yes, my children attend ORHS) and yours will be not only safe, but safer, with the new arrangement.