The Ticonderoga Central School District is asking the state education department for permission to establish an alternative high school program.
The program, which would be held away from Ti High School, would be for students struggling to meet new state graduation requirements.
“We have kids who have had a hard time adjusting to the new state requirements,” said John McDonald, Ticonderoga school superintendent. “They’re getting frustrated and are having difficulties. It’s affecting our drop out rate.”
Ticonderoga’s graduation rate was 86 percent in 2011. That’s up from 82 percent in 2010 and 79 percent in 2009. Graduation rates are determined by the number of students in a freshman class who graduate four years later.
Statewide the high school graduation rate was 73.4 percent in 2010, according to the state education department. Statistics for 2011 are not yet available.
The alternative education program, which needs state approval, would allow struggling students to develop job skills by substituting internships and work study for some academic classes.
“We’re seeing kids hit a wall,” McDonald said. “This is a way to a high school diploma through modified graduation requirements that meets the needs of some students.”
Mike Graney, Ti High principal, stressed the goal will still remain the same — that every student graduate with a Regents diploma.
“Sometimes you just can’t fit a round peg into a square hole,” Graney said. “This will be another way to help these students experience success.”
If approved by the state, the program will begin this fall and serve about 15 students.
McDonald stressed the program will have no additional costs to Ti taxpayers since the space will be donated and classes will be taught by existing staff.
“In fact, it will probably save us money,” McDonald said. “Because of their frustration these students often become discipline problems. Then we have to tutor them and provide other services outside school. That costs us money. If we can keep them in school we save money.”
Graney agreed that the new program can save money. Ti High has students who received tutoring outside of the school at taxpayer expense as mandated by the state for a variety of reasons — discipline, health, legal and others.
“A lot of this is done after school,” Graney said. “If we can do this during the school day at an alternative location it will save us money.”
Sheridan Burleigh, a Ticonderoga special education teacher, approached the Ticonderoga town board recently seeking donated space for the alternative education program.
“We are looking for space outside the high school because we feel that these kids would be more successful in a slightly different environment,” he told town trustees.
Deb Malaney, Ticonderoga supervisor, embraced the program. She believes the town can find room for the students in the basement of the Community Building.
“The project is looking to adhere to academics in the morning with a work study, community service or internship program in the afternoon in order to get these kids more hands-on activities,” Burleigh said. “We can garner credits for work study and things like that.
“It would be a great experience for these kids and the goal is to get the kids their diplomas, but to also get them back into the mainstream of the regular school by the time they are juniors and to make them better citizens of Ticonderoga,” he said.
“If we can get community-service type projects, kids will start to take ownership of the community and start to appreciate where they live and what a great place this is,” Burleigh said.
McDonald is confident the state will approve the alternative education program in time for its to begin in September.
“We want to open as many doors as possible for our students,” McDonald said. “Not every kid is going to college. We’re looking to help some kids who are interested in other careers.”
Graney said the proposal makes sense.
“We already address the needs of these students, but we feel we can do it in a more efficient way that provides a better education for the kids,” he said. “It’s a win-win.”