How District 303 plans to expand its alternative learning program
St. Charles Unit District 303 is moving forward with a multiyear plan to expand an alternative high school learning program.
The NorthEast Academy is designed to provide a personalized and responsive environment for students in need of flexible scheduling or educational support outside a traditional classroom setting, officials said.
A version of the academy already exists, with supplemental courses offered through night school and during the traditional academic day at St. Charles North and East, Superintendent Jason Pearson said.
Administrators are now developing plans to broaden the program's scope with work-based learning opportunities and various "pathways" to support college and career readiness -- all of which will be housed in the former Haines Middle School building.
In a 6-1 vote last week, the school board approved a timeline for the program and gave the district the green light to hire a full-time director, who will begin this July. The salary for the position ranges from $94,500 to $115,500, according to the job posting.
"There's a significant amount of planning and preparation, including the identification of students for this programming, that would need to be done," Pearson said. "We need somebody who can help us coordinate that work."
Board member Heidi Fairgrieve cast the lone dissenting vote, citing concerns over the potential economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
"It is important to serve all of our students across the district, and I think the objective for the NorthEast Academy is appropriate," she said. "My reason for voting 'no' is more from a timing standpoint. ... It's not the right time to be investing in a new initiative given everything that's going on."
According to the district's timeline, the night school program is expected to shift to the Haines building but maintain its current two-day model through the next academic year.
The changes likely will be more significant in 2021-22 with the creation of a Charles H. Haines Center for College, Career and Future Readiness, officials said. The NorthEast Academy would fall under that umbrella, along with the district's special education transition program.
Additionally, a revised summer school program would take effect, the NorthEast Academy would implement a five-day "flexible model," and various staff members would be hired: two to three core teachers, a college and career counselor, a mental health professional and a career specialist, according to the timeline.
The following year, 2022-23, student pathways would be implemented for manufacturing and culinary entrepreneurship, requiring teachers for each of those experiences. Administrators would then continue planning for future work-based learning opportunities, which could include: business; family and consumer science; science, technology, engineering and math; and other interdisciplinary or college programming.
To help cover academy expenses, officials anticipate receiving about $385,000 in annual state funding through an alternative learning opportunities grant, Pearson said. That brings the district's estimated net cost to $170,000 per year.
Repurposing a portion of the Haines building to accommodate the program is expected to cost about $710,000, officials said. Those expenses are incorporated into a nearly $4 million construction project expected to be completed next academic year.