New format being considered for alternative high school

FLINT TWP. — Enrollment is down at Atlantis Alternative High School, 3493 Beveridge Road, and Superintendent Steve Tunnicliff would like to find a way to attract more students and make the program more efficient.

In a preliminary report to the board last month, Tunnicliff said Atlantis enrollment has steadily declined over the past two years. At the same time new programs have opened in other districts that are doing well.

Atlantis is a small alternative high school supported for about 23 years by the Bendle and Carman-Ainsworth Boards of Education, serving grades 9 to 12. The student body is drawn from Bendle, Carman-Ainsworth and Flushing high school. C-A is the fiscal agent for the Atlantis consortium.

Atlantis relocated to its current location in 2012 after C-A closed Woodland Elementary School due to declining enrollment. At that time Atlantis enrollment was close to 200 students but dropped to about 161 for the 2013- 14 school year and 130 in 2014-15, Tunnicliff said.

He did an informal survey of other districts running alternative programs. Of ten responses, only one is running a program similar to Atlantis where students are in class about seven hours a day with face-to-face instruction from a certified teacher. The other districts are running what is called a blended program where students spend less time in the classroom and the curriculum is more computer based, he said.

The Atlantis program is too similar to traditional programs, Tunnicliff said. Students typically enroll in an alternative program because they have different needs.

But the way Atlantis is formatted is not efficient. For example, 30 students all might need different math classes to graduate. In a traditional format, all students take the same prescribed courses at the same time such as algebra I and II and geometry.

In a blended format, students needing different math classes can all be in the same classroom with one math teacher.

Students also would have the option of spending perhaps only four hours a day in class and the rest elsewhere including at work or working at home.

The format change would require additional computer labs and a seattime waiver approved by the C-A board of education and the Michigan Department of Education.

Tunnicliff stressed that this format change would not be reinventing the wheel. Similarly formatted programs are already up and running in other districts in Genesee County. Those districts are reporting higher levels of student engagement, fewer discipline issues and higher graduation rates, Tunnicliff said.

“Programs started in the last two years are growing. I daresay that might be one of the reasons our numbers are declining,” he said.

Tunnicliff said he planned to study the blended model more before bringing a recommendation to the school board.

“My interest is finding out what students are interested in and what they are gravitating to. I think it is something we need to look at from a programmatic standpoint, from an engagement standpoint and from a fiscal responsibly standpoint. We don’t want to run an alternative program that drains our general fund.”

The format change could save the district as much as $300,000 a year, he said,

Tunnicliff stressed that a new format, if adopted, still would include a face-toface instruction component and social grouping experience.

“It is not like this idea some people have in their heads where a kid is just sitting in his bedroom doing all his work,” he said.

Certified teachers still would be employed and the four core curriculum areas still would be provided, he said.

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