Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What's a Non-Traditional High School?

What's a non-traditional high school? Talk to three people and you'll probably get six different answers. One frequent answer is wrong. It's the one thing a non-traditional high school is not. So, before we get into Richardson ISD's decision to build a non-traditional high school, let's start by asking just what a non-traditional high school is and isn't.

Is a non-traditional high school for students who are enrolled in a traditional high school but feel their needs aren't being met? Is it for students with family or health situations that make traditional high school hard to attend? Is it aimed at helping kids close to graduation but who are at risk of dropping out or who wish to graduate early? Well, yes, yes, and yes.

Does a non-traditional high school have a football team, a marching band, a prom and a homecoming parade? No, but that's because the students who attend a non-traditional high school have other priorities. Their desire to attend a non-traditional high school reflects the value they place on the flexibility a non-traditional high school offers over some of the extra-curricular activities a traditional high school offers. Even so, students enrolled in a non-traditional high school program can still attend social events (e.g., prom) at their "home" high school.

Is a non-traditional high school a disciplinary alternative education program? No. That's the frequent guess that is wrong about the program in the RISD. Here, a disciplinary alternative education program is being run in the RISD's Christa McAuliffe Learning Center, which will continue to fill that function after a new non-traditional high school building is opened.

For bonus points, did you know that RISD already has a non-traditional high school program, but not a separate building? Did you know that demand to attend is greater than capacity? Did you know that last Monday night, the school board took an important step towards meeting this growing need?

According to The Dallas Morning News, the RISD school board voted to approve construction of a new school to serve as a non-traditional high school. Here are some reasons I support the decision.
  • The current alternative high school program served 128 students last year, using existing facilities at night. There are no facilities to meet daytime demand. The existing building has other uses during the day, and of course so do all of RISD's other schools.
  • The new building will expand capacity to serve between 400 and 500 students a year, in both day and night programs.
  • The new building will be funded from surpluses in the RISD's operating budget. No bonds. No debt. No new taxes.
  • With the new building, many more RISD students will get a chance to graduate high school. That's a bottom line I like.