Charting a New Course

By Jeffrey D. Harrison

As most of these students were leaving the high school, the search for answers was turned over to the school’s “continuous improvement team” -- a group of teachers and administrators who put together the school’s academic plans and goals each year. This team conducted a survey and personal interviews with students who’d left the district, and what they found was a group of students with needs that the school system was overlooking. Some students required a more flexible schedule to allow them to work and support their financially struggling families. Others were having a hard time academically and needed an alternative approach to learning, as well as help to catch up on academic credits.

After school officials digested these findings, they soon turned to the idea of sponsoring a charter school to provide the alternative educational setting that these high school students sought. In Ohio, charter schools have been around since 1998, and officials saw the opportunity to use these schools’ freedom from state regulations and collective-bargaining agreements as an opportunity to experiment with innovative ideas, encourage entrepreneurial energy, and provide new avenues for professional growth.

What’s more, the school system’s sponsorship of a charter school was seen as a way for the district to compete with the region’s proliferation of privately operated charter schools and, through competition, encourage these schools to raise their standards for student achievement, academic quality, and administrative operations.

As we pursued this idea, there were some challenging decisions that had to be made. We knew our alternative program needed to provide a route for students to catch up on academic credits and speed student progress through the curriculum. But we also knew we had to take a fresh approach. Students who were struggling with the traditional instructional program needed more than a new setting and different teachers.

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