Fayette Co. planning school for struggling students

The Fayette County Board of Education gave the go-ahead Monday night for the creation of a new alternative school for students who struggle in traditional learning situations but don't have behavior problems.

Dubbed a "middle/high school learning center" — an official name will be picked later — the new facility is planned to open next August in the old Linlee Elementary School building on Georgetown Road.

It will serve middle school and high school students from the Fayette County district who need a different structure for successful learning, school district officials said.

Students will not be assigned to the new school. Instead, parents will be able to apply for their youngsters to shift from the schools they're now attending to become part of the new school starting in the 2009-10 school year. Initial enrollment would be only 50 students, with that expanding in phases to a total of about 200.

Planning for the school has been under way for about two years, Superintendent Stu Silberman said.

"It really is an effort to fill in a missing link in our continuum of services for kids," Silberman said. "Right now, we have services for students who are having discipline problems. But we haven't had services for kids who didn't necessarily have discipline problems but were having difficulty in their current school environment."

Last month, the school board approved another program to encourage student learning and achievement. Under the new Middle College Program, selected high school juniors and seniors will be able to study on the Bluegrass Community and Technical College campus. It's intended to encourage youngsters who might otherwise not consider college.

Mike McKenzie, the Fayette district's high schools director, said those who enroll in the new learning center will spend varying amounts of time there each day, depending on their particular needs.

Some might be in class there all day. Some might spend part of the day, then return to their "home" schools. Others might be at the school in the morning, and in vocational school in the afternoon, McKenzie said.

Students also will be able to participate in extracurricular and other activities back at their home schools.

"The program will be individualized for each student who goes there," McKenzie said.

According to McKenzie, officials planning the new Fayette County facility visited several similar schools around Kentucky, including the Providence School, operated by the Jessamine County Public Schools

Providence, which opened about eight years ago, also serves middle and high school students who have been identified as needing an alternative learning setting, said Owens Saylor, the Jessamine schools' deputy superintendent.

"It has become a jewel in our system," Saylor said. "There are kids who are graduating because of the Providence School who otherwise would not be. It absolutely has made a life difference for these kids."

McKenzie, who visited the Providence School, said he was impressed with the way faculty members there try to make each student feel like an integral part of the school. Fayette County wants to duplicate that environment.

"We know there are kids who are not being successful in the traditional school setting, but they don't always demonstrate that lack of success by acting out," McKenzie said. "We need to provide something different for them to be successful. We want to do it right the first time."

The school district must now select a principal for the school and then hire a staff. Teachers and others — including bus drivers — will get special training in how to implement the philosophy of the new school, he said.

Starting up the new facility is projected to cost slightly less than $1 million. That will include some physical modifications to the Linlee building, plus salary and other requirements. The building modifications mainly will involve steps to keep middle and high school students separate, officials said.