Wilton alternative school gears up for grand opening
With teachers prepping for classes and new furniture being moved into place, Wilton’s new alternative school is putting on the finishing touches for the first day of school on Tuesday, Aug. 27.
Located at the Trackside Teen Center, 15 Station Road, the alternative school is a new program for students in grades seven through 12.
“We are so excited. We have a great staff of teachers, educators and social workers, as well as a great group of families who have built this program from the ground up,” said Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Andrea Leonardi, who spearheaded creation of the alternative school.
As opening day nears, final details are being set up for the school’s food service and transportation needs. “We are working to get things in order,” said Leonardi.
The alternative school is designed to include students who are currently outplaced and students who may seek outplacement in the future.
“We are reaching out to students who may feel a larger middle school and high school is not meeting their needs in some way. They may feel disconnected academically or socially and need something more focused, a better way for them,” Leonardi said.
At present, there are 10 students enrolled in the alternate school, according to Leonardi. “We have an initial group of students, and are still taking applications,” she said.
The program was anticipated to have 20 to 25 students enrolled the first year. It has rolling admissions, which means new students can apply at any time. Leonardi said she expects enrollment to expand as the school year goes on.
Curriculum for the alternative school is based on the core standards of Wilton public schools’ curriculum.
Under Leonardi’s leadership, the alternative school has four staff members: one humanities teacher, one STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teacher, one special education teacher and one licensed clinical social worker.
Students will receive the same number of instructional hours as Wilton’s middle school and high school, but with a different schedule: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and dismissal at noon on Fridays. “The early dismissal on Fridays allows the team to do planning,” Leonardi said.
The alternative school is seeing its debut this year thanks in part to funding by the Board of Finance. In April, the board voted to approve $468,000 through its Charter Authority to fund the program for one year.
The expectation is the alternative school will save the town money with in-house placement of students the town would otherwise have to pay to outsource.
First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice told the finance board in April that it currently costs between $75,000 and $110,000 per outplacement of each student. The budgeted cost for the alternative school program — $468,000 — is the cost equivalent of approximately five outplacements, she said.
When proposing the program to the Board of Education in 2018, Leonardi said it 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.
Open houses for the alternative school will be held in the fall, Leonardi said, to provide people the chance to visit and learn more about the program.