New alternative school earns raves from students while producing results

Tracy Rose, a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher at the Adams County Regional Safe School, works with student Kobey Tipton on proofreading during class. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: Mar. 29, 2013 10:44 am Updated: Apr. 19, 2013 1:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Amanda Mangan just couldn't seem to make her education click while attending Quincy High School.

"When I was at the high school, my truancies were really bad. I was failing everything," Mangan said.

It's a different story now for Mangan -- one of 64 students enrolled in the Adams County Regional Safe School, an alternative program for students in grades 7 through 12.

The ACRSS is operated by the Quincy School District in the lower level of the Board of Education office, 1416 Maine. Mangan, a 17-year-old senior, is flourishing in the program, which offers classroom instruction in English, math, science and history, along with assorted online courses.

"After I came here, my truancies stopped. My grades -- my GPA -- went up a lot, and I'm getting more credits," Mangan said.

She believes that the smaller class sizes and individual attention from teachers have helped keep her on track toward graduation.

Mangan had feared she would have needed five or six years to finish high school because she was so far behind in credits, with 23 needed for graduation. But now, because of credits she earned at the ACRSS, she is scheduled to graduate with her own class this spring.

"It blows my mind," she said.

The ACRSS is completing its first year. The school was developed to replace the Ombudsman program, which operated at the same location the previous two years.

The School Board in March 2012 decided not to renew the Ombudsman contract, which had one year left on a three-year service agreement. The district hoped to save about $40,000 by operating its own alternative program.

The ACRSS not only has turned out to be cheaper than the Ombudsman program, but it's also been earning rave reviews.

Curriculum Committee Chairman Steve Krause told the School Board last week that the new district-run program appears to be "overall more successful" than the Ombudsman program.

Statistics provided by the ACRSS show the daily attendance rate from August through February was 67.3 percent, up from 54 percent the previous year with the Ombudsman program. Meanwhile, the number of credits attempted and earned has risen steadily during the first three quarters of this year and discipline referrals have been on a downward trend.

Cheryl Dreasler, ACRSS director, said the new program has done "very, very well" in its first year. She attributes this largely to the school's approach in dealing with students.

"This is not a typical alternative school," Dreasler said, noting that care is given to make sure students feel their concerns are being heard and they are treated respectfully.

"The students are treated as worthwhile individuals who make a difference. The program is also working because we're a small-school setting."

Class sizes average six to eight students in the four core subject areas. In addition, about 20 students at a time take various online courses at their own pace using a computer-based system developed by APEX.

Students say they like the new alternative program more than the one offered by Ombudsman.

"Everything is better this year than last year," said Sara Vahle, a 17-year-old senior. "Last year, if you asked for help, they never really helped you. This year, they're always helping you. And the classrooms are a lot better, the learning is better, the teachers are better. Pretty much everything is better."

Similar sentiments were expressed by Tanner Austin, 16.

"Last year, we got to do what we wanted to do because the teachers weren't like teachers. They were like your friends," Austin said. The ACRSS is "more structured," which helps students stay focused on getting things done, he said.

JaChaun Parker, 15, also likes the new program better.

"It's like a school now," Parker said. "There are less kids in the classes, and the teachers have more time to help people."

Jevante Cannon, 15, feels the ACRSS setting is "way better" than the Ombudsman program.

"Last year, it wasn't even a real school," Cannon said. "Everybody was just clowning around. This year, you actually get to learn something."

Dreasler said students can recover up to 10 credits in a year at the ACRSS. Two students have already graduated this year by earning extra credits, she said, and three others are on track to graduate soon.

Mangan said she's grateful for the concern, attention and sense of fairness shown to students by the school's staff.

"Every single teacher who teaches in this school needs to be recognized with bold italic letters because of all the work they put in to help us to make sure that we get on track," she said.

"Mrs. Dreasler helps me more than anybody in the entire school. She's like my mom. She makes sure I'm here. Like today, she drove me to school because I didn't have a ride. She will make sure that you're here."