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Pasco County School District to revamp alternative program

LAND O'LAKES — When she transferred him to run the Schwettman Education Center, Pasco school superintendent Heather Fiorentino said the district needed Randy Koenigsfeld's expertise in alternative education as it revamps Schwettman.

Koenigsfeld, who ran Schwettman once before, didn't know his move out of Ridgewood High was in the works until July 28, the day of Fiorentino's announcement. But he's game to help the district refocus its alternative program.

"I'm glad to be a part of that," Koenigsfeld said. "It's exciting to be part of transforming something."

School district leaders have worked to improve high school "graduation enhancement" programs for the past few years, adding such things as learning labs for students to get extra teacher assistance throughout the academic day. The effort became more pressing in the spring, as the district's finance team looked for ways to save money.

At one point, conversation centered on closing Schwettman and its east Pasco counterpart, the Irvin Education Center. That talk quickly dissipated in favor of creating a more efficient and effective model for the schools.

Since that time, the schools have shed about half their staffs and students.

Part of that change was the direct result of a data analysis that revealed that a disproportionate number of students coming to the schools had disabilities, assistant superintendent Ruth Reilly said.

"Many services for those students already exist at traditional schools," Reilly said. "So we didn't have the right balance of students. We redistributed some students with disabilities back to their home schools … and then reduced the staff accordingly."

That means the centers will focus more directly on students who have violated the code of conduct and appear headed to expulsion without some sort of intervention. The centers also face the possibility of increasing need, though, as changes to state law might lead to larger numbers of retained eighth- graders, a prime population to act out and end up at an alternative school.

As such laws come from Tallahassee, "we have to make some changes in what we do," said Rick Saylor, principal at the Irvin Education Center.

Task force at work

During the coming year, Saylor, Koenigsfeld and a variety of other educators will serve on a task force charged with finding exemplary programs that Pasco can adopt or adapt to make improvements here. It was important to get Koenigsfeld on the team before the task force starts meeting, Reilly said, hence the quick turnaround on his transfer.

"We want recommendations by mid year," she said. "We believe it is going to take the second half of the year to put the pieces in place so everything is ready for the coming year. And both principals are going to be key stakeholders."

The district's new eSchool for online instruction could play a role in the plans. The team also might look at providing longer time at the centers for students who demonstrate they can't perform well at larger mainstream schools.

Most students, who are primarily eighth- and ninth-graders, remain at Schwettman and Irvin for a year. Neither can confer a high school diploma.

Koenigsfeld expects relationships between teachers and students to figure prominently in the mix.

"It takes special teachers working with kids who have been at risk," he said. The students "are here for a short time. … Usually they're coming with some behavior problems. But it can be done."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampa bay.com/schools.

Pasco County School District to revamp alternative program 08/09/09 [Last modified: Sunday, August 9, 2009 8:07pm]
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