MASSENA — The Massena Central School District is considering bringing back an alternative education program, but it’s not an easy process, according to Superintendent Patrick H. Brady.
He told the story of the alternative education program to Massena by reviewing records and speaking with former superintendent Douglas W. Huntley, who had established a committee to explore an alternative education program originally intended for students of lower secondary school.
“This committee included teachers, members of the board of directors, administrators and representatives of the Saint-Laurent County Youth Bureau. It was really about creating a program for students who didn’t really feel connected to school, to the traditional classroom, and providing them with support, and some sort of project and community so that ‘they go to the job sites together to learn skills,’ Mr Brady said.
In 2008-09, former superintendent Roger B. Clough II started a limited alternative education program with a few teachers who taught math, science, English, and social studies.
“There were two teachers in there and they brought in a counselor from time to time. They were in the central office building. The second year, they transferred the program to high school. At that time, during this second year, they brought in four main teachers, a coordinator, a counselor and some art and foreign language teachers. It extended to about fifty students. It spanned from sixth to ninth grade. Eventually he went all the way to 12th grade,” he said.
This program lasted a few years and was eliminated during a difficult 2012-13 budget year when cuts were made across the district.
Mr Brady said that by getting feedback from some of the people involved in the program, he appealed to pupils who were not doing well in a traditional classroom, but who did better in smaller classes with learning per project. Attendance rates have increased and disciplinary referrals have decreased.
School board member Kevin F. Perretta said it’s important to look at data like graduation rates to see how successful the program has been. However, credential data for this particular group was not available.
“I think it’s important to look at this data because I think it might tell us something. The whole expectation was to create something that would increase the graduation rate. That was a very specific reason and, to my perspective — and I was here at the time — it was a success. But I don’t have that data. It was seen as a success,” Perretta said. “I’ve always been curious about it, if he was showing anything or falling off after being cut.”
He said he voted against the budget that year precisely because of the reduction in the alternative education program.
“We’re at a point where we have a lot of money, and I haven’t read our district goals, but I think the gradual increase in graduation rate is there and if it costs money to do it and it’s gonna provide a pipeline to get those students who need (assistance), I’d like to see some serious consideration on that,” Perretta said.
Brady said a transition program is one of the district’s future considerations. The goal of bridging programs is to sequentially close the gap between students’ initial skills and what they need to enter and succeed in post-secondary education and employment. Some students attend the Seaway Career and Technical Education Center in Norwood to learn skills that can be used after graduation.
“The issue with students has often been whether we can get them to Seaway Tech. They struggle in junior high, but they won’t go to Seaway Tech until Grade 11, and once at Seaway Tech, they have a graduation rate of about 93 percent,” Brady said. “So it’s been a success, and that’s one of the reasons we’ve been looking closely at this grade 9 and 10 bridging program as well, and hopefully we can get it off the ground.”
He said Massena and other districts approached the St. Lawrence-Lewis Cooperative Educational Services Board to offer a program, but found little interest. But the district would still like to discover it in its own buildings.
“I guess what I mean is that if we are considering an alternative we will have to look at it carefully because adding teachers will incur significant costs in times of teacher shortage and what makes it model be,” Mr. Brady said. “I think we have to take a step back and look, ‘OK, are there any patterns there now?’ I think if there’s an interest in alternative education, I think it needs to be explored further and what we usually do with that is we place it in the interest of the board of directors with an objective and that we are beginning to dedicate resources to it, to examine it.