DIXON — Reagan Middle School and Dixon High School will have voluntary alternative programs to serve students who are struggling or for whom the traditional classroom setting is unworkable.
Dixon Public Schools’ board of education decided at its June 22 meeting to approve the two initiatives, which are intended to operate on the two campuses starting this fall.
Presently, students requiring an alternative education setting are sent outside the district, such as the Regional Center for Change operated by the Regional Office of Education 47 in Rock Falls.
While the administration believes this can be a cost-effective plan, including savings with transportation, the main goal is to preserve the students’ connections within the school community.
“How do we provide interventions and supports to make sure that they stay on track to graduate?” said Superintendent Margo Empen.
The program will require a dedicated teacher and paraprofessional at each building. The initial year the program will be limited in the number of students who can participate.
At Reagan, the options program will serve at least four students, but no more than 10. Principal Matt Magnafici provide an outline to the board that spells out that this alternative setting is not to be confused with students utilizing an individual education plan. Rather, it is for any student the administration sees needing help on a pathway to graduation, especially in the realm of credit recovery.
At-risk students would be evaluated on specific needs, such as those who are parenting teens, expelled students, retained a grade or whose behavior leads to truancy, subject to anxiety in large settings and those who are not finding success in the traditional classroom.
“Junior high is a tricky place,” Magnafici said. “We want to create a space where we can connect with them more on an individual basis — help them work through the things that are getting in the way of them being successful in a traditional classroom setting.”
The student learning time would be shorter, 8:15 am to 1:15 pm To stay in the program, however, a 90% attendance rate would have to be maintained.
The high school version of the program would meet 3 to 7 pm on Monday through Thursday and Friday from 7:45 am to noon. Evaluations would be made every four and a half weeks.
High School Principal Jared Shaner said 12 to 15 students have been identified that meet the criteria.
“The number one indicator of a kid graduating in four years is whether they’re on track after their freshman year. That’s statistically proven,” Shaner said.
Shaner said the high school would identify students struggling after three semesters, which is the midpoint of the sophomore year. The key is identifying those students who can still meet the state minimum requirement for a diploma of 17.5 credits within two school years.
“We want to give you an opportunity to have a high school diploma,” said Shaner.
The alternative school would use a credit recovery service — APEX — that allows students to work online. A teacher and an aide would help them.
Shaner said in his experience that speaking with families and students at the outset about what the program is trying to achieve, and adapting it to their needs, is important.
Empen said the building principals would begin the hiring process for teachers for the program immediately after board approval.