PLSD planning to launch 'community school' in August
The Pickerington Local School District plans to open a new "community school" in August to educate currently home-schooled students, as well as help at-risk students get on track toward graduation.
The school, which would be sponsored and overseen by the district, would seek to bring area students who are now being home-schooled back into the district.
It also would aim to help students who've fallen behind academically so they can graduate.
"We're targeting kids currently in our two high schools who are at risk of not graduating," said Bob Blackburn, PLSD director of special education. "We're looking at kids that are credit-deficient who are three or more classes behind their peers.
"We're also looking at kids with chronic truancy or who have behavioral issues, as well as kids living in the district who are attending other community schools or are being home-schooled," he said.
Blackburn said the community school, which, at least in its first year, would operate out of Pickerington High School North, expects to serve approximately 50 students in 2011-12 and grow by about 25 students each year.
Primarily, students ages 16 to 21 will attend the school, Blackburn said.
In addition to providing specialized education to students who might fall behind or drop out of more traditional classroom settings, the community school also would allow the PLSD to maximize its state funding. Each time a student leaves, the district loses that portion of per-pupil funding from the state.
"The No. 1 benefit is getting kids to graduate," Blackburn said. "A lot of kids just don't like coming to school, and with a community school, you can be more flexible in how you teach students.
"It's also a competitive market," he said. "There are a lot of community schools out there taking kids away from other districts. That's a lot of (state) money that goes to other districts."
Roughly 51 percent of the PLSD's operational funding comes from the state.
Currently, Blackburn said, approximately 184 students in grades eight through 11 who live in the Pickerington district are home-schooled or attend schools in other districts.
Pickerington's community school is expected to be funded by two federal grants totaling $450,000, Blackburn said, but the federal government is behind schedule in distributing those funds. The PLSD would initially provide start-up money for the local community school.
It's not certain that the district will receive the funds, but PLSD treasurer Dan Griscom said it's "a good possibility."
None of the federal grant money will be used for salaries. It will be used for supplies, materials, facilities and service purchases.
A coordinator will oversee management of the community school and provide some classroom instruction. A second teacher also would be hired to provide classroom instruction. Their salaries will be funded by the district via state per-pupil funding.
The PLSD currently is advertising for those two positions.
"(The community school) would help recruit kids back to district schools," Superintendent Karen Mantia said. "The oversight of it would be from people who we know and trust."
Blackburn said the federal grants are expected to be delivered to the district by November, when PLSD would be reimbursed for its start-up expenses.
"We're going to need some money upfront from the district to get the community school up and running and so we can hire staff," Blackburn said. "We're going to keep the costs as low as possible, and the district will be reimbursed."
Although there will be two teachers in the community school's first year and students will attend classes, they will complete their coursework online. Blackburn said the curriculum will be in line with state standards for high schools, and standard, honors and remedial courses will be offered.
The community school also will have its own five-member board of education, which will be responsible for reporting to the PLSD and its board of education. Performance goals will be set, Blackburn said.
After its first year of operation, district officials hope to purchase a separate facility for the community school.
"Our plan is to have this be an ongoing and growing school," Blackburn said. "It becomes another education option for our students.
"In addition to making sure the district meets the needs of our kids, we're also trying to make sure those (state) dollars stay in Pickerington. Once it starts growing and we get more students, the community school should be self-sufficient."
According to the Ohio Department of Education's 2009-10 annual report on community schools in the state, the law establishing such schools in Ohio was passed in 1997.
It states community schools are public, nonprofit, nonsectarian schools that operate independently of any school district, but under a contract with a sponsoring entity that is established in statute or approved by the ODE.
The report said there were 323 community schools operating in Ohio in 2009-10, including two in Fairfield County and 63 in Franklin County.