Dozens Demand Carmel Alternative High School Stays Open

A student who attends the Alternative High School program was one of many students, parents and alumni grads to protest a proposal to close the program down next school year at a recent Carmel Central School District Board of Education meeting.
A student who attends the alternative high school program was one of many students, parents and alumni grads to protest a proposal to close the program down next school year at a recent Carmel Central School District Board of Education meeting.

By Sara Dunn

At the Feb. 28 Carmel Central School District Board of Education, dozens of students who are enrolled in the alternative high school program, their parents and alumni grads of the alternative high school turned out to protest the proposed end of the program for next year

In what could be a harbinger of things to come as district officials and the Board of Education identify and outline more cuts in order to close an estimated $2.2 million budget gap for the 2012-2013 school year, the alternative high school students, parents and grads emphatically pleaded with the Board of Education not to cut a program that they said had transformed the lives and futures of so young people who had attended it.

The Carmel School District serves students living in the towns of Carmel, Kent, Patterson, Putnam Valley and East Fishkill.

One by one, they rose during the public comment period to share their personal stories of how attending classes through the alternative high school had prevented them from dropping out of school, many times it was said, due to feeling bullied and isolated among the larger, general high school population. They also applauded the two teachers and the guidance counselor who staff the alternative high school program with having helped them turn around both their poor academic performance and their general outlook on life.

Through the alternative high school program, they said, threats of dropping out had turned into plans to attend college. Poor grades turned into students making the honor roll for the first time. Students and grads also said the alternative high school program had helped them strengthen their self-confidence and fostered a sense of family among the students in the program.

The alternative high school was established 13 years ago. There are 28 students currently enrolled in the program and a total of 145 students have graduated from the program since it was first implemented.

The grand majority of the cost of the program entails two faculty positions, which have been proposed for elimination in the 2012-2013 draft budget, and a guidance counselor.

The Lakeland School District decided to close its alternative high school last year.

One mother with a child in the program pointed out that if the school district shuts down the program, some students will have to be sent out of district for instruction, which will create an additional expense for the school district.

Board of Education President Richard Kreps said school board trustees were very supportive of the alternative high school, noting they had given special consideration as to where the program would be housed when the high school underwent renovations.

Kreps said that nothing was as of yet set in stone in regards to next year’s school budget and that discussions and considerations were ongoing.

But, he said, if the alternative high school remained, along with the associated spending for the program that would have to be put back into the budget, that money would have to be cut elsewhere; ultimately impacting another school program that would upset another group of students and parents.

“I guarantee you something that somebody cherishes is going to be cut next year,” Kreps said. “There is nothing we can do about it. There is only so much money.”

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