Natrona County School District leaders are considering significant changes at Roosevelt High, including carving the alternative school out of the district’s school of choice policy and lowering the number of credits needed to graduate, as the school’s enrollment blooms and its graduation rate stagnates.
“Twenty-six and a half credits … is super challenging with my population of kids, for a million different reasons,” Roosevelt principal Shawna Trujillo told school board members and district administrators Monday afternoon.
The plan would be sweeping and affect not only Roosevelt but the district’s three traditional high schools. Roosevelt students would require 20 credits to graduate, compared to 26 1/2 at the other high schools. They would each have individualized graduation plans, with emphases placed on Hathaway Scholarship eligibility and post-graduation options, including both college and careers.
Students would enroll at Roosevelt after a referral and application process, Trujillo explained. The school would not be an open-enrollment school, like every other facility in the district. At-risk students who qualified for Roosevelt would not be forced to attend there, Trujillo and other principals explained, but nor would the school be open for any student in the district. (This change will not apply to students currently enrolled at the school, or those who will enter it next year as ninth-graders.)
Trujillo, who is in her ninth year at Roosevelt, said she had the best kids in the district learning in her school. But, as the largest alternative school in the district, “We definitely need to do it differently. We’re at a turning point in our system.” Her students struggle with homelessness, mental illness, drug dependency, academic issues, legal problems and more.
Roosevelt exists to catch those kids from a free fall toward dropping out and help them learn and graduate.
As the school stands today, it may have a number of students who don’t need that level of support. NC principal Shannon Harris said students may go to Roosevelt because it’s small, rather than the specific services offered for at-risk kids. The goal would be to have the system be more targeted toward students who almost certainly wouldn’t graduate without Roosevelt.
“We’re refining a pretty good system in our own buildings to identify those students now,” KW principal Mike Britt added.
Roosevelt’s enrollment has jumped by 100 students since fall 2013, according to state data, and its population this year — 241 as of October — is the largest in at least the past 10 years and is near the max capacity of the facility, Trujillo said. A majority of students qualify for free and reduced lunch, and 40 percent have IEPs — plans for students with a range of special education needs. Its graduation rate for 2018 was 35.4 percent, a recent low. The rate typically hovers in the mid to high 40s.
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Under this new plan, Roosevelt students would still take the same core classes — English language arts and math, for example — as their peers at Kelly Walsh, Natrona County and Midwest. But they would have to gain 6 1/2 fewer elective credits than those other students.
Trujillo told the board that Roosevelt students wouldn’t have lighter schedules. She said her students have social-emotional training as well, among other differences. The plan would also not limit students to just 20 credits.
The point, Trujillo and others said, is that Roosevelt is equipped to serve the most at-risk students. The revamped idea would make the facility only available to those students, with specific aid for that population, while opening space at KW and NC for students who may struggle but may not rise to the level of need offered at Roosevelt. For instance, Trujillo said she’ll have 50 spots open when the expected group of students graduate. That will allow 50 at-risk kids from NC and KW to enroll at Roosevelt, which will in turn open space in intervention programs at the traditional schools.
The board seemed keen on the proposal. Trustee Clark Jensen called it “wonderful” but asked whether a KW student who failed to graduate because he only had 24 credits would be shorted. After all, Jensen said, that student would’ve graduated had he been at Roosevelt.
Trujillo and Superintendent Steve Hopkins both pointed out that Roosevelt students are still taking full schedules, that they would have significant circumstances that brought them to Roosevelt and that it was almost certain the hypothetical KW student with 24 credits hadn’t completed his core classes — something that Roosevelt students would still be required to complete.
That concern assuaged, Jensen said he was eager to have the new Roosevelt plan unveiled. He asked if the board could vote to move it a step forward Monday night, which Trujillo endorsed. Hopkins quietly told Jensen that the board needed to alert the public three days ahead of time before voting on something.
Still, a May vote appears likely and would still allow the district to begin the program for the 2019-20 school year.
“It’s not a sprint to 20 credits,” Trujillo said of graduating Roosevelt kids. “These are students who really struggle emotionally, socially. They have life-impacting circumstances. There’s a lot of time, effort, a lot of doing it differently to get them there.”