Evart alternative school to move locations

EVART — Evart Alternative High School will have a new home that will benefit students, teachers and the district’s budget.

With a unanimous vote, the Evart Public Schools board of education approved moving the alternative high school program to a computer lab in the regular education high school from its current location in a separate building on Main Street.

At its last meeting, the board considered housing the alternative high school in the middle school building. After members of the community expressed concern about the age difference of having high school juniors and seniors alongside fifth through eighth graders, the board requested another option for the alternative program.

“One of the most positive things is it will allow us to catch kids before they get too far behind,” said Alan Bengry, board president.

With the alternative high school housed in the same building as general education courses, students can start credit recovery before they fall too far behind; whereas, they used to wait until they were really struggling to transfer to the alternative high school.

“By the time a student chooses to leave for the alternative school, they’re behind usually at least a year. They’re desperate,” said Alan Kullman, the high school principal who will now oversee the alternative high school as well. “Now they can move in and out for a couple credits.”

Evart’s alternative high school enrolled more than 40 students last year, although about 20 of them graduated in 2011. The number of students who need to attend the alternative school to make up for failed credits or other personal or social reasons fluctuates from year to year, said Superintendent Howard Hyde.

The alternative high school will have one teacher this year, Marci Cherry, rather than two instructors like it’s had in the past. The other instructor will now work with Title I classes, students from low-income families who need extra assistance, and be paid with Title I federal funds – saving the district about $100,000, Hyde said.

Carol Bogner, the former alternative high school principal, will become the middle school principal. She will replace Sue Lenahan, who now will serve as a K-12 guidance counselor.

Other advantages of having the alternative high school within the high school building include more access to guidance counseling, special education support and elective classes for students in the alternative high school because those resources are already available in the high school.

Evart also offers seat time waivers for students with extreme circumstances – such as a primary job or lack of child care at home – that don’t allow them to attend school all day. The seat time waivers, which must be approved by the state, help more students earn their diplomas.

“It’s harder and harder for school districts to have alternative education programs because of graduation rates and other tests we’re being graded on by the state. It makes it harder to make (Annual Yearly Progress benchmarks),” Kullman said. “We all benefit in this community by these kids getting their diplomas.”

Kullman said the re-vamped alternative high school program may draw more students to Evart from other districts as well. The building where it is currently housed will stand vacant for at least a year as administrators evaluate the success of the new location, Hyde said.

Other business included recalling art teacher Jenneke Erbes to full time after her position was reduced at a past board meeting.

“Our third- and fourth-grade class sizes are at 31 and 32,” Hyde said. “We wanted to try to reduce these class sizes, and if we bring Jenneke back full time, she can pick up some of the middle school art, which will let (elementary art teacher) Jeff Junker become a fourth-grade teacher. That will bring the class sizes down to 26 or 27.”

Also, the board approved posting the job of part-time athletic director. Former athletic director Randy Park was laid off at the end of last school year to help the district save money. Hyde had planned to take on the position in addition to his responsibilities as superintendent, but it proved to demand too much of his time.

“This was not (Hyde’s) idea,” Bogner said of the proposal to hire a part-time athletic director. “We need a full-time superintendent. We need Howard to be available to us, to our teachers, to our students, to our families full time. ... I think it was terrific that he wanted to try to do that to save money, but what ended up happening is that he was stretched (too) thin.”

Hyde will meet with administrators, board members and coaches to develop a specific job description for the part-time athletic director, who will be hired as soon as possible.

The board changed its regular meeting time to the second Monday of each month, which means it will meet again at 7 p.m. on Sept. 12.