Ashe County Schools begins push for alternative school

JEFFERSON-Earlier isolated incidents of student misconduct and increases to Ashe County High School’s dropout rate has reignited a discussion among school administrators of a growing need for a new alternative school program.

Ashe County previously sponsored such a school at the former Ashe Central High School site, but internal problems led to the program’s demise.

“That program did not function as it was supposed to do,” said Ashe Schools Superintendent Todd Holden.”The key to a successful alternative program is leadership. What we are looking at is you have to have the right leaders in there and I mean that in administrators to oversee it and also the teacher leadership.”

Holden confirmed he has added a funding request of $100,000, which will mainly be appropriated for personnel, into the upcoming fiscal year budget.

This cost will not include computers. Additional upfront costs for the building itself would also be necessary as the alternative school would not be located on-site at the high school.

“It (the request) will depend on if we can get commissioners on board with and I know my school board is all for it, but the funding issue is it winds up costing more per pupil expenditure than does traditional (instruction),” said Holden.

Holden describes the students viewed as prime candidates for alternative schools as those who have trouble “fitting in” a traditional high school setting. Other students might have certain learning difficulties.

Holden envisions an alternative school similar to the one he oversaw in Iredell County.

“They need a smaller class size with a smaller environment,” Holden said. “They need more individual, one-on-one time to help them with their needs. If it is a reading issue, we will need to have something in place, like a corrective reading program.”

This skills gap, which developed during earlier elementary and middle school, becomes even more glaring by the time students reach the ninth grade. Holden described students who struggle with understanding informative text – a crucial component to understanding on-the-job instructional manuals and other procedures – as a consequence of not addressing student problems early on in life.

Isolated incidents of behavior problems has also highlighted the need for an alternative setting.

In December, a 16-year-old Ashe High student was charged with being intoxicated and disruptive and resisting a public officer following an outburst during school.

“What I need is an alternative school,” said Holden in a previous interview with the Post. “And we don’t have the money, but I’m looking for grants.”

Holden said an alternative school could help reduce the district’s dropout rate.

In 2013-14, Ashe Schools reported 29 students that dropped out. In the following school year that number increased to 39 students. This is a change of 34.5 percent.

But Ashe County isn’t alone.

As a whole, dropout counts and rates increased in North Carolina’s public schools for the first time in eight years, according to a report from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

In addition to a proposed alternative school, Holden would also like to implement an exit interview to determine why students are dropping out.

Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.

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