School board approves alternative ed program

An alternative education program will begin in January at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –FILE PHOTO

BEACON FALLS — Starting in January, Woodland Regional High School will have an alternative education program to call its own.

The Region 16 Board of Education approved an alternative program for the school at its Oct. 24 meeting. The program is for students who are having trouble in a traditional high school setting and one the board has sought for some time.

“I’m absolutely thrilled because anytime we can help kids, especially before you lose them or they drop out, it’s very important,” school board Chair Priscilla Cretella said.

The school has never had an on-site alternative education program for students. In the past, Woodland would send students to alternative programs in nearby school districts. However, those districts stopped accepting out-of-district students into their programs.

Currently, students who would be placed in the program receive 10 hours of tutoring a week at home with the district paying for the costs. There are eight students now that are tutored at home.

The tutoring at home was a temporary solution that turned into a permanent one, Superintendent of Schools Tim James said.

The alternative education program will take place after school from 2:30 to about 5 or 5:30 p.m. Students will receive instruction as well as counseling during the program.

Cretella said about 10 students have been identified for the program.

The estimated cost of the program for the spring semester only is roughly $68,300. The majority of the cost is $36,259 for transportation.

Two vans, one for Prospect and Beacon Falls, will pick up and drop off students at their homes. This plan is the highest of three transportation options presented to the board by All Star Transportation. The other options would be for students to meet at a central location in each town for pick up and drop off or students would ride one of the buses that pick up the regular high school students at Woodland at the normal dismissal time.

Cretella and James said the students may not be able to make it to a central location during the day, especially if their parents work and they want to ensure the program is well attended.

“If you can’t get the students there the program doesn’t work,” Cretella said.

Board members have raised concerns in the past regarding the third option, saying they did not want the students interacting with the regular education students at the school for fear they might fall into the same troubles that got them into the program.

James said the district will also seek bids for transportation to see if they can lower the expense.

The remaining costs for the program are $17,460 for certified personnel, $2,587 for a guidance counselor and social worker, up to $5,000 for an administrator, $3,000 for a license for ODYSSEYWARE, software that offers core and elective courses online, and $2,000 to $3,500 for ODYSSEYWARE training.

Approval of the program came two weeks after a projected budget deficit of $200,000 threatened to jeopardize starting the program this year. James said after a closer review of the budget there was actually a surplus and not a deficit.

The afterschool program is the first phase of the program. The board is also looking to place the students in a job or internship during the day before going to the program beginning with the 2013 school year. The idea is to provide the students with a life skill they can use after graduation.

“We’re hoping wherever the student is the internship will carry them after school,” James said.