HUNTLEY – Everyone is capable of graduating high school, Huntley High School Associate Principal of Student Services Danyce Letkewicz said, but some struggle to succeed in an environment with nearly 3,000 students.
Huntley High School had a four-year graduation rate of 91 percent in 2016, according to the Illinois State Board of Education, but Letkewicz said there’s always a small group of students who need an option different from a traditional school setting in order to graduate on time.
To help students who are credit deficient, the district has implemented an off-site school through an Alternative Learning Opportunities Program that started during the spring semester.
“We wanted a program that helps them recover credit, helps them earn their graduate requirements and also gives social-emotional support, as well as college and career planning options,” Letkewicz said.
The 25 students enrolled in the program go to school for shorter hours than a regular school day.
Classes are completed online and supplemented by small group instruction, Letkewicz said. Because students can move at their own pace with teacher supervision, they are able to finish lessons quicker and catch up, she said.
The program is run by staff from Ombudsman Educational Services and overseen by Huntley Community School District 158 officials, Letkewicz said.
According to the contract with Ombudsman, the district must pay $127,500 for the first semester of the program, $305,910 for the 2017-18 school year and $315,090 for the school year after that. Chief Academic Officer Erika Schlichter said a portion of the costs will be paid through a Title I grant.
The program is optional, Letkewicz said, and students and their parents can work with their counselors, deans and social workers at the school to figure out when it’s best for them to enter and leave it.
“School is very much a system, and it’s a big system,” Huntley High School Principal Scott Rowe said. “And I think in education, where oftentimes we miss the boat is every single one of our students are different, and we can’t treat all of our students the same.”
Other schools have similar programs where students can learn in an alternate environment, including Crystal Lake-based Community High School District 155, Algonquin-based Community Unit School District 300 and Woodstock Community Unit School District 200.
Angie Scott is the director of the off-site school center in Huntley, and she also serves as the school’s social worker. There are three staff members at the Huntley center, she said.
Students can be referred to the program for having low grades, poor attendance, medical reasons or because they’re a new student, Scott said. Many times factors such as having jobs can affect the student’s attendance, she said, which is why a flexible program helps.
“We’ve had a lot of positive reactions so far, as we’ve had a lot of students that have already finished their first elective courses,” Scott said. “And they’ve already made it through a significant amount of work.”
Scott said she’s also there to help with what the students encounter outside of school, from managing mental health to solving typical teenage problems. Although there are social workers in District 158, the small student-to-staff ratio at the alternative school makes Scott easily accessible.
“Many times it will just be a matter of availability,” Scott said. “I’m here, so that’s what makes it work.”
Letkewicz said the plan is to add 10 students to the program next semester.
“Our goal is to be able to support as many students that need this as possible,” Letkewicz said. “But really, we want to educate all students who are Huntley High School students and be able to provide all students with a high school diploma and to be successful in life.”