Gillett approves alternate graduation plan

Work and community service to be included in program to help students struggling in school
Luke Reimer

The Gillett School Board approved an alternative graduation program during its March 16 meeting.

The program will offer different paths for graduation, including work and community service for those students who may be struggling in their regular classes.

“Looking at the purpose, it is really to provide that alternate path for graduation,” said Gillett Middle/High School Principal Shawn Limberg. “In some cases, the way that we do school does not work for some students.”

More than just getting high school credits in order to graduate, Limberg said that this program would also allow students to get real-world work experience.

“Part of this alternative program would be the pathway to a diploma being a slightly different credit number,” said Limberg. “Our graduation requirements and state statute would allow differences in an alternate program and a pathway to a different credit requirement for a diploma.”

Limberg went onto say that one teacher would be involved, giving students a better opportunity to connect and build a relationship with the teacher. He added that things like deadlines and in-class work could change with the program.

“Here, in our regular day school when we are all working together in classrooms, there are some pretty structured deadlines. That doesn’t work for all students. So in this program, every student is going to have their own individualized learning plan that might look different among all of the kids in the program,” said Limberg.

Depending on the student, Limberg said that the start time for the program could be later than the normal school day.

Gillett Interim District Administrator Dr. Wayne Johnson said that before he was hired, he dug into the data at the Gillett School District and said that the number of students who did not complete school stuck out to him.

“Having one child or student not graduate is one too many,” said Johnson. “I was looking at somewhere around 10% of kids not graduating in a couple years.”

Johnson elaborated on Limberg’s explanation of the program, saying that the program would include online instruction, direct instruction and group instruction.

“You set a room up with some study areas, so that they are all on a different subject at the same time. Sometimes it is a group subject; sometimes you have a conference table,” said Johnson.

In terms of getting into the program, Johnson said that a commitment has to be made by the student and the parent or guardian of that student.

“They have to go through a process very similar to applying for a job,” said Johnson. “They have to fill out a completed job application; they have to do one or more interviews. The parent or guardian has to be interviewed, and there has to be an actual commitment.”

Before the interview and commitment, students who are on the path to not graduate would be identified by district staff and with the recommendation from the staff and a desire from the parent or student, that student would be considered.

“These programs have zero excused absences — there has to be a full commitment from the family and student to get into the program,” said Johnson.

As the program continues to develop, Limberg said that discussions surrounding whether these students would be eligible for extra-curricular activities still needs to be had.

Gillett School Board Member Jamie Heroux raised concerns about the staffing for the program, asking if scheduling for other students will be affected.

“It would have zero effect — we are able to manipulate the schedule to make it work without cutting any student out of any class,” said Johnson. “We have staff members that do more than teach that have other responsibilities to allow us to manipulate the schedules. It will not impact any students’ courses, I guarantee you that.”

For work or community service, if a student already has a paying job, Limberg said that that could be interwoven into the program. He added that support from the school district would probably be needed to help students find those employment or volunteer opportunities.

“The goal should be that they pick up some skills in this — I don’t want them working for their uncle and all they have to do is show up,” added Gillett School Board Treasurer Cliff Gerbers.

“There would be parameters in place for both the work commitment and community service,” replied Limberg. “It has to be relevant to picking up those life and job skills and fits into their individual student learning plan. It won’t just be them helping their uncle move into a new house — that is not it. It will be much more structured. The goal for me would be every student having a paying job, and then we would work with that business in a partnership.”

Gerbers showed his support for the excused absences protocol, saying that missing school is a major part of failing to graduate.

Now that the board approved the program, Johnson said that he, Limberg and Gillett Middle/High School counselor Jami Parker will work together to develop curriculum for the program.

“I think that this is the right step,” said Gerbers.