Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Manny Caulk said he will need places for two new alternative programs in the 2017-18 school year.
One would be an intensive dropout prevention program. Another would be a newcomer center for students whose families move to the United States and who enroll in the district speaking little or no English.
The dropout program would target students who have reached the age of 17 or are near that age and have very few credits toward graduation.
There are at least 127 students who are enrolled in the district’s traditional high schools in that category.
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“They are not throwaway students,” he said.
A law passed in Kentucky in 2015 increased the public school dropout age from 16 to 18.
“We need to come up with a program that can meet those student needs in a much smaller environment and still give them a pathway to college and career readiness,” Caulk said. “We hope to address the issue. We don’t want the issue to grow.”
The traditional learning environment is not meeting the needs of those students, Caulk told the local planning committee Wednesday. That is a group of educators, parents and other citizens making decisions about the district’s priorities of what to build and renovate next.
In the spring of 2015, school districts across Kentucky were tracking down 16- and 17-year-old high school dropouts to tell them they were required to return to school this fall if they hadn’t gotten a GED.
The proposed new program could also benefit students who were sent to the district’s Martin Luther King Academy for disciplinary problems and have improved their behavior enough to transfer to a non-disciplinary program, Caulk said.
Fayette County’s graduation rate is about 82 percent, and there’s an economic cost to that, he said. The new program would put those students vulnerable to dropping out on a path to career and college readiness, instead of just getting a GED.
Caulk said the program would be personalized to each student’s need and would not include disabled students, because their needs are addressed in other programs. District officials are looking at the best programs in the country that are giving students in danger of dropping out an accelerated path to college as well as careers.
He said he did not want to place the program in an existing school: “It needs the caring, and love and support of a dedicated staff.”
That said, Caulk said, students in the program would likely be learning in community placements as well.
“We’re looking at something that takes learning beyond four walls.”
Whatever space is used for the dropout prevention program, Caulk said, would not take away from other important work happening in the district with larger projects.
Caulk said the newcomer center would, for about six months, provide intensive support for students whose families are new to America and who speak little or no English.
Some of these students had their education interrupted in their home country because of war, Caulk said. Some of the students have not had formal schooling in their native language. And some students will need help because of the trauma they suffered in their home countries, school officials said.
District officials are looking at the best similar programs in the nation.
The center would be used to connect a student’s family with resources they need, helping them learn how to live in Lexington and how Fayette County Public Schools work. The district would partner with community agencies.
For the newcomer center, too, Caulk said he did not want to place the program into an existing school.
Caulk said at least 100 students would be served in the newcomer center at any given time, but he didn’t have exact numbers Wednesday night. Members of the local planning committee discussed the increasing number of refugees who are settling in Central Kentucky.
Both of the proposed new programs are elements of the Blueprint for Student Success that Caulk, who was hired last year, introduced in the spring.