Friday, June 12, 2009

Dallas ISD proposes high school for older students

Conceivably, this would be particularly helpful to lots of immigrant youth from Mexico and Latin America who often end up being over-aged. But it would also have to include a deep understanding and an infrastructure that reflect ESL methodologies for this group. -Angela

Dallas ISD proposes high school for older students
07:06 AM CDT on Friday, June 12, 2009
By TAWNELL D. HOBBS / The Dallas Morning News

A high school for older students could be created in the Dallas school district in January under a draft plan presented to trustees Thursday.

The school would target students who are much older than typical high school students and have too few high school credits. It could be housed at the Fannie C. Harris building, a former elementary school in South Dallas.

Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said earlier this year the district was looking at creating such a campus. He questioned at the time whether it was appropriate to have older students attending school alongside much younger ones.

In February, the youngest ninth-grade student in Dallas ISD was 12 years old; the oldest was 21.

DISD trustee Ron Price, who proposed creating the overage campus, has often complained about the age gaps.

"A 21-year-old should not be allowed to be in a classroom with a 14-year-old ninth-grader," he said. "The best of both worlds is to create a school designed for the over-age kids – and give them the special attention they need to be successful."

It's possible more school districts will face the decision Dallas is considering. A relatively new state law entices school districts with state funding to enroll students up to 25 years old. The state used to provide funding for high school students only up to age 20, or 21 for special education students.

An unintended consequence of the law was some very large age differences in class. Other large districts have already taken steps to avoid the problem. The Houston Independent School District has an over-age school and earlier this year was considering a second one.

Start-up costs for Dallas' over-age school would be $2 million, and district officials are hoping to use federal stimulus money for them. The district is in deliberations with a Texas Education Agency monitor to determine if stimulus money can be used for that purpose.

The school would initially start with around 200 students and would max out at 400, officials said. But they added that it's possible more students could attend, depending on whether the school has a nontraditional staggered schedule. That could entail some students attending during morning hours and others in the afternoon.

"I hope we can get a flexible program where we can get as many kids scheduled in as possible," trustee Nancy Bingham told administrators. "Please be sensitive to that so that a lot of students could be helped."

District officials said they have not established the protocol that would determine who should attend the school. The number of credits the student has obtained would also be a factor, they said.

Superintendent Hinojosa said the district is targeting January for opening the school because the facility wouldn't be ready until then. The district also has to do the paperwork to set it up as a separate campus.

Dallas ISD also is looking at other strategies for students on the cusp of being over-age for their grade level.

Another part of the proposal involves strengthening the Freshman Success Initiative program, which focuses on making sure ninth-grade students are on track to graduate by monitoring and providing mentoring, among other steps. The district would still utilize alternative schools that offer special programs.

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