‘Alternative’ students returning to campuses

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The Lincoln County School District will eliminate the need foran isolated alternative school under a plan proposed by thesuperintendent and approved by the board Tuesday.

The plan also provides a means for the district to used thesaved funds to improve its instructional capability and curriculumthrough technology.

Superintendent Terry Brister said the move was prompted by themore than $250,000 budgeted for the alternative school eachyear.

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“I think we’re throwing away money year after year with thestructure the way it is now,” he said. “It’s a mighty high budgetto be spent for what we’re getting out of it.”

Brister recommended the board eliminate the separate alternativeschool and instead use buildings on the campus of each school tocreate an alternative setting.

He was aware the move might concern some parents, but Bristerassured the board the alternative students would remain separatedfrom the regular students throughout the entire course of theday.

“We’ll have an alternative setting at each school,” he said.”They’ll be secluded from the rest of the students.”

Funds saved in the cost of transporting the students,maintenance and upkeep of the separate alternative school at EvaHarris, and even teacher and administrative salaries, would be usedto purchase technology that would benefit the entire school,including the alternative students.

“Technology serves all our children,” Brister said. “A lot oftime I think we concentrate so hard on some students that weoverlook our top students.”

The alternative students would still be overseen by a teacher,he said, but would continue to be taught by their homeroom teacherthrough technology.

Cameras would be installed in every academic classroom in grades7-12 at each attendance center. The cameras can automatically turnon and follow the teacher in the classroom or be poweredmanually.

“They’ll still have the same teacher, they’ll just have analternative setting,” he said.

Alternative students would watch their class through the cameraand buzz the teacher with questions, which she would relay to theattending class and answer.

“This way the alternative students get the same instruction asthe students in the classroom without physically being present tocause any problems,” Brister said. “I feel alternative studentsoften were penalized academically when they were transferred backand forth because they had to change teachers, also. The teachermay not know where in the instruction the student was before he orshe was transferred.”

The same technology that allows the alternative students towatch their normal homeroom class while attending the alternativeschool also provides some benefits to non-alternative students, hesaid.

Instruction will now be available through the Internet, and itexpands the district dual-learning and distance learningcurriculums. The same system can be used to allow students to takecourses offered by other districts or even begin takingcollege-level courses.

This becomes especially important, Brister said, in classes likephysics. Physics teachers are hard to find and only one graduatedfrom college in the state last year.

“We’re hoping to increase our dual-enrollment offerings so theycan get college and advanced high school credits,” said KennethWallace, the district’s technology coordinator. “We do have some ofthat, but this will allow us to do much more.”

The technology also provides two additional benefits, Wallacesaid.

Lessons can be archived for later viewing, which means studentshomebound with an extended illness can either view the class as itis being taught via the cameras and Internet, or can watch a DVD ofthe day’s lesson. The archived material could also be provided tostudents who may have attended class that day, but expressedconfusion about the lesson.

“There would be a delay of a day or two before the lesson wouldbe available to the students on DVD, but that’s a lot better thannot having it at all,” Wallace said.

The same archiving system would help the district improve theirteachers through staff development, Wallace said. Professionaldevelopment could be offered at teachers at each school through thecameras rather than at a centralized location, saving them time andconvenience. Those sessions could be archived for later viewing,also.

“A lot of districts are trying right now to get this technologyand offer it to their students,” Wallace said. “The technology hasbeen around for awhile. It’s just been hard for schools to find thefunding.”

Other districts are using the technology for their alternativeschools or for distance learning, but the Lincoln County SchoolDistrict will be the first to fully utilize its capabilities, hesaid.

“This wouldn’t be possible without the money we’ll be saving onthe alternative school. They’re a good fit,” he said.

The plan will take five years to fully implement, Brister said,but savings will begin the very first year and cover the initialcosts.

Under the plan, the alternative schools will be in place nextyear with the next four years devoted to purchasing equipment andadding distance learning and dual-enrollment programs.

“We’ll probably start slowly and grow into what we can provide,”Wallace said.

The total cost of the program in its first through fifth yearsis estimated at $150,000, including all associated costs, with$100,000 in savings, Brister said.

“We’re being very conservative with our cost estimates,” Bristersaid. “I actually expect the savings to be much higher. It’s agreat savings for taxpayers and we’re improving technology.”

Beginning the sixth year, after which all equipment should bepurchases and in operation, the program will only costapproximately $55,000 annually, including warranties andmaintenance and upkeep, Brister said.

“That’s an annual savings of $195,000 from what we’re payingnow,” he said. “That’s a lot of money.”

The equipment is covered under warranty, he said, and any timeit is replaced it is automatically upgraded at no additional costto the county.