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Alternative High School Continues to Pay Dividends in Third Year

The program is both saving the district money and allowing students to transition back to the regular high school program.

West Deptford’s in-house alternative night high school program saved the district at least $149,000 last year, according to school district estimates, and is moving a quarter of its students back into the regular day program in just its third year of operation.

Add in three graduates who walked with the regular high school students back in June, and the night program is paying dividends, child study team supervisor Chery Fairchild and high school principal Brian Gismondi said.

By keeping 22 students—18 boys and four girls—in house and holding on to all students with behavior issues—at least 12 of whom would’ve needed to be sent out of district at tuition costs of around $360,000, plus transportation costs that could push another $40,000—the district was able to shave down the budget while still accomplishing its goals, Gismondi said.

One of those is transitioning students back to the regular high school—five students who were in the alternative program last year started this year back in with the bulk of their peers, and Gismondi says they hope to move another two back into the regular program at the midyear mark.

“We don’t want to place students into the day program if they’re not going to succeed,” he said.

They’re helping foster that transition by having guidance and career counseling and regular counseling on a regular basis, and the program also gives alternative school students access to the district’s substance abuse coordinator, something Fairchild said was important, even though only some of the students in the program have had substance abuse problems.

“She was able to reach a lot of kids,” Fairchild said.

The night program is evolving, as well, Gismondi said—they offered art and transportation technology electives last year, and will include Spanish in this year’s course offerings to help students fulfill their graduation requirements as laid down by the state.

Given the number of students who have been able to make it out of the alternative program and back into the regular high school, Gismondi said including courses like Spanish is important to help make sure students don’t fall behind in the coursework in the regular program.

And on the other side, Gismondi said having the night program in-house acts as a deterrent, and behavior problems have dropped as a result.

But it’s not a draconian measure, either—students have to accumulate discipline points and go through various levels of administrators before they’re shifted over to the night school.

“They’re not being dropped into the alternative school all at once,” Gismondi said. “We give them a future—a path they don’t want to go.”

Part of that stems from the high school being able to have night suspensions because of the alternative program, which help act as a taste of what student could face in the night program, Superintendent Kevin Kitchenman said.

“In many ways, it’s more effective than Saturdays,” he said.

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