The Natrona County school board approved a change to Roosevelt High School’s graduation requirements June 10, removing the alternative school from the district’s open enrollment pool and clearing a policy hurdle as leaders prepare to focus Roosevelt’s efforts.
The school, which shares a west Casper campus with the Pathways Innovation Center, is designed to educate Natrona County students who face significant challenges. A majority of Roosevelt’s students qualify for free and reduced lunch, and about 40 percent of kids there have an IEP, which is a specific education plan for students with special needs. While the issues that bring students to Roosevelt are myriad, the school is built for students who otherwise wouldn’t graduate.
But the school’s enrollment has grown significantly in recent years — its October 2018 population of 241 students is a jump of nearly 100 kids from 2013 — and it is the largest alternative school in the state. The students there are also expected to meet the same graduation requirements as high schoolers at Kelly Walsh, Natrona County and Midwest, while balancing the challenges that brought those students to Roosevelt. They were expected to complete 26 and a half credit hours in order to graduate, which is above the minimum requirements set by the state of Wyoming for the typical high schooler.
Roosevelt principal Shawna Trujillo told the school board in April that 26 and a half credits “is super challenging” for her students. The school’s graduation rate has long been the lowest in the district by some distance; last year, just 35.4 percent of expected graduates at Roosevelt received their diploma.
Trujillo proposed — and, on Monday night, the school board approved — a plan to lower the credit hour requirement for Roosevelt students to 20 hours. Starting with the class that will graduate in spring 2020, Roosevelt students will take the same core classes — like English and math — as students at traditional schools. But they won’t be required to take as many electives.
The school will also institute an application process and remove Roosevelt from the district’s policy of open enrollment. Up until now, while the school was designed for students with specific, education-impeding challenges, Roosevelt was still open to all Natrona County kids. But with the new graduation requirements and the emphasis the school will place on getting students across that stage, Trujillo said it made sense to focus the school’s offerings to the students who truly need that level of support.
In a statement, district spokeswoman Tanya Southerland told the Star-Tribune that enrollment at Roosevelt “will be based on the individual student’s social, emotional and/or academic needs and determination for enrollment will be approved after collaboration and agreement between the student, Roosevelt High School, the student’s home high school, parents/guardians, and District officials.”
The other changes to Roosevelt will not need direct board voting approval but will include instituting a sharp oversight process to ensure students will graduate from the alternative school.
Trujillo has stressed that the credit hour changes will not mean the school is easier. The students attending are already dealing with outside challenges, and they’ll be expected to keep complete schedules and will have other activities to ensure their days are full.
The plan has received general support from the board since Trujillo unveiled it in April.
In her statement, Southerland said that the district wants “to ensure every student is provided the best opportunity and resources available to them in order to graduate and be ready for the path they choose after graduation.”
“The changes reflected in the graduation policy allows for the students needing the alternative path to graduation to benefit from the opportunities and additional supports provided at RHS,” she continued.