Alternative programs presented to Lakeview school board

By Mike Taylor • Last Updated 2:08 pm on Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Resources such as this computer lab at Montcalm Community College will be available to the high school students participating in the Early College program, as it is available to current students now. — Daily News/Cory Smith

LAKEVIEW — Alternative education led the Lakeview Board of Education’s agenda Monday evening as board members heard presentations on behalf of Montcalm Community College and West Michigan Virtual, a learn-at-home program for at-risk students. Career Center Principal Selena Mills also made a short presentation on various programs there.

Montcalm Area Intermediate School District Superintendent Scott Koenigsknecht spoke on the Early College program that could soon be available at Montcalm Community College. The three-year program would be available next year for this year’s Lakeview High School (LHS) sophomore students, according to Koenigsknecht.

Under the Early College program, high school students would be schooled at MCC and, for all intents and purposes, function as college students.

Koenigsknecht admitted the program would not be right for all students. Since only five slots would be available for Lakeview students, at least at first, that could work to the school’s advantage.

“Is this program right for everybody?” Koenigsknecht asked. “It’s not for everybody. It’s for kids that may not care if they miss a Friday night football game.”

Because of scheduling conflicts, participation in the Early College program could easily conflict with students who wish to play high school sports.

Tuition in the program would be free of cost; even the cost of text books would be covered, Koenigsknecht added. Students participating would get a boost toward their college career goals.

Another benefit of the program would be the reduction of class sizes at the high school for certain grade levels.

Koenigsknecht is in the process of making similar presentations at other school districts throughout the area. The five available slots for LHS is based on the notion that all districts being offered the opportunity will choose to participate. If any districts pass on the option, those slots would be distributed among the schools that do take part.

One possible problem with the program, according to board president Ed Jonaitis, is limited availability.

“It’s a lottery system,” Jonaitis said. “One of the fears I have is, say we have 20 students apply and we only have five slots. Five students get drawn at random and then I can see 15 angry parents at the next board meeting. That could be a problem.”

Koenigsknecht countered that — should the program prove to be that popular — it could always be “ramped up” to provide more available slots, he said.

Currently, there are 23 similar programs operating statewide. They have all proven to be popular with students, staff and parents, according to Koenigsknecht.

Dallas Bell, of West Michigan Virtual and Student Retention, Inc., made a plea for the program at the meeting.

His proposal to the board involved setting up and operating a program similar to Greenville’s in Lakeview, possibly headquartered at Bright Start Elementary School. West Michigan Virtual would operate the program for three years at no cost to the school system, after which the district could decide to keep Bell’s team on or take over the operation itself.

The program he was presenting is designed to provide alternative education possibilities to at-risk students, often those who have dropped out of school or are likely to.

Bell helped institute a similar program in Greenville in August 2012. He developed the alternative school after noticing that some students who had trouble in high school went on to do well at college. That more independent, college-type environment, he says, helps a certain segment of the student population to succeed, academically.

The success of the student is what matters most, Bell said.

“I’d love to do this for Lakeview,” he said. “Let’s build a school for kids that are at risk here. There will be kids from other areas that will come in if we create a community college type atmosphere for the kids.”

With the West Michigan Virtual program, much of a student’s learning takes place at home, via computer. This makes it an excellent option for teens who, for whatever reason, just can’t function to their fullest ability in the traditional classroom environment.

“If this is something you’d like to do, we’d love to partner with Lakeview,” Bell said. “It would be a Lakeview program. There are more kids that need to have this than we could ever service ourselves.”

In other board business, Jonaitis made note of the positive feedback he has been getting from around the community regarding the upcoming bond election, scheduled for Feb. 26. The board and district have been working overtime in recent months to get the message out regarding the bond to area voters.

“I get the feeling voters in this district think this is important,” Jonaitis said.

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