Board to review alternative high school proposal next month

In Superintendent Kevin Smith’s proposed school budget for fiscal year 2020 (FY20) will be a line item for an alternative high school to start next fall, Board of Education member Lory Rothstein said at the board’s Dec. 20 meeting.

At a special meeting of the board’s Teaching and Learning Committee on Dec. 11, Rothstein said, Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Andrea Leonardi presented an “initial proposal for [an] alternative high school.”

The committee had “lots of questions and very robust discussion, and came away with a plan of action,” said Rothstein.

After more “data analysis, financial analysis, and that sort of thing” is done by Leonardi and her team, said Rothstein, Leonardi will present a proposal to the entire Board of Education by Jan. 25, so the board can review and discuss “the possible implementation of an alternative high school” during its Jan. 31 meeting.

When it comes to implementation, Rothstein said, there will be “two possible proposals.” The first is to implement the alternative high school as early as September 2019. The other is to implement it the following year — “and possibly ask for some sort of seed money to help with the further development of the school,” said Rothstein.

In the meantime, the superintendent is “going to put a line item in the budget for it to start in September of 2019,” said Rothstein, and the board will have time to “discuss it and decide what to do from a timeframe perspective.”

“If we decide we’re not going to implement it [in September 2019],” said Rothstein, “then there [will be] time for it to be removed from the budget before the Board of Ed accepts the budget.”

Initial proposal

The Wilton Public School District is “currently struggling to meet the needs of a small, but increasing, number of students,” according to Leonardi’s slideshow presentation to the Teaching and Learning Committee.

Between September 2017 and December 2017, seven students were hospitalized for mental health crises, mobile intervention calls were made for 10 students, and more than 60 students identified with anxiety or depression, according to Leonardi’s presentation. She said an alternative high school could benefit students who:

  • Struggle to learn or are very passive learners in traditional large-school settings.
  • Exhibit social anxiety that impacts attendance and learning.
  • Disconnect from traditional curriculum and instruction.
  • Struggle with the pace of the day at Middlebrook and Wilton High School.
  • Struggle with changing expectations of multiple teachers.
  • Struggle to form meaningful relationships with teachers and staff.
  • Lack coping skills to manage anxiety and build resilience.

An alternative high school could also save the town millions of dollars, according to the presentation. The average cost of outplacement is $70,000, and there are 18 Wilton students outplaced by planning and placement teams (PPT) and 14 outplaced by parents unilaterally — an annual cost to the district of approximately $2,240,000.

The total projected cost for an alternative high school, according to the presentation, would be around $522,474, breaking down as follows:

  • $372,000 for four full-time teachers (humanities, math, science, and special education).
  • $93,000 for a full-time mental health provider.
  • $25,000 for program development.
  • $18,600 for a part-time physical education/health teacher.
  • $10,000 community participation (transportation to sites in the community for service learning projects, internships, and apprenticeships).
  • $3,874 for an estimated 80 hours of curriculum work conducted by four staff members.

According to Leonardi’s presentation, an alternative high school would expand the district’s continuum of services to include an alternative program for up to 25 students in grades 7-12 that is small, off-campus, “academically rigorous and socially and emotionally supportive,” with “strong family, student and staff relationships.”

If approved, one of the next steps for the alternative high school would be to identify a space.

“As we flesh out the alternative school proposal,” Leonardi told The Bulletin, “we are looking at Trackside [Teen Center] as an initial location.”

The Board of Education’s next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 10, 7 p.m., in the Wilton High School Professional Library.

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