The D.C. Public School system announced plans Feb. 16 to bolster its alternative high schools, which are designed to cater to students who may need flexibility in their schedules or extra assistance in academics, by allocating an additional $4 million to nontraditional programs in its 2017 budget.
Alternative high schools aim to allow students who have had extended absences from school, possibly due to factors such as pregnancy or imprisonment, to return to the conventional high school process.
DCPS currently has four existing alternative high schools: Luke C. Moore, Washington Metropolitan, Roosevelt STAY and Ballou STAY.
D.C. Councilmember and Chairperson of the D.C. Committee of Education David Grosso (I-At Large) emphasized the importance of alternative schools in promoting educational success for students from different backgrounds.
“These alternative schools are designed to make sure that every student in the D.C., no matter what their struggles are in life, or what’s happening in their world, can have the opportunity to get a traditional high school diploma,” Grosso said. “It’s a smart, strong commitment to make sure that every student has the best opportunity to succeed.”
DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson said the increased budget allocation to alternative high schools is intended to ensure success in alternative school students.
“D.C. Public Schools serves all students and, in that mission, we need to do more for our students taking alternative paths toward graduation,” Henderson said in a press release Feb. 16. “This $4 million investment will ensure students in comprehensive high schools stay on track and students in alternative schools have a plan to graduate high school prepared for college and career.”
D.C. has increased its budget for schools by 22 percent since fiscal year 2012, which Henderson said has aided her in fulfilling her promise to serve all grade levels through investments in elementary, middle and high schools. Additionally, DCPS has seen an 18 percent increase in teachers since fiscal year 2013.
“Over the years, DCPS has made strategic investments to improve outcomes for all of our students,” Henderson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This new investment in alternative schools shows that DCPS is living up to its commitment to serve all students. Here at DCPS, all means all.”
The budget allocates for the hiring of directors of pathways, who will provide individualized support to overage, undercredited high school students. They aim to help students work toward graduation by providing services such as counseling and personalized academic plans.
“This is an effort to target students and equip students who have been disconnected,” Grosso said.
The Empowering Males High School, which will open in the fall of 2016, is a new type of alternative school. It will be the District’s only all-male, college-preparatory high school with an emphasis on humanities and classical languages. The school will have smaller class sizes, community service projects and leadership programs. According to Grosso, the school was established because of the major achievement gap in D.C.’s Latino and African-American males.
Grosso said Empowering Males aims to celebrate students’ cultural history and their individualism as community members in D.C.
“We needed to put something dramatic in place that can give them the opportunity to shine for greatness in our schools,” Grosso said.
DCPS Press Secretary Michelle Lerner said she hoped that this year’s increased investment will help to secure the future of struggling students.
“DCPS is investing $4 million in alternative schools for Fiscal Year 2017 because we believe that we need to do more for our students taking alternative paths toward graduation,” Lerner wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This investment will ensure that students in comprehensive high schools stay on track and students in alternative schools have a plan to graduate high school prepared for college and career.”
Maddy Taub (COL ’18), a D.C. resident and graduate of DCPS school Woodrow Wilson High, stressed the importance of alternative and nontraditional programs as options for students who may not do well in mainstream high schools.
“There is definitely a good reason for the push towards alternative high school. Traditional D.C. public schools tend to try and prepare kids for standardized testing and college when a lot of kids do not want to go to college or do not have the means to go to college,” Taub said. “Alternative high schools would give these students a greater opportunity to get a specialized education that could allow them to go towards other career paths.”