The Marysville school district’s newest principal said she intends to narrow her focus in her role at the TRI Academy.

Ashley Thompson, who’s also the district’s personalized-learning coordinator, addressed the school board May 18, sharing her goals for the academy, whose initials stand for tailored relevant instruction.

Earlier this year, the school district announced it would open an alternative high school for the 2017-18 school year, focusing on students who are struggling to earn credits toward graduation and who might need more individualized attention.

“We’re trying to drill down to a more narrowed focus and then go deep,” Thompson said.

Board president Sue Devine said she is impressed with the time, thought and research that has gone into the TRI Academy.

“Based on Ashley's presentation, it seems like the students and their families are on board as well,” she said.

In designing the school’s program, Thompson and her team visited other central Ohio schools with similar programs, such as those in Delaware, Dublin, Westerville and Worthington

“Really, no one is the same,” Thompson said. “There isn’t a template that fits every district. They all work a little differently. Some are strictly online coursework. Some are totally taught by staff members. Some are a blended, and some are bigger than others.”

One common theme her team had heard when talking to the students was the benefit of traveling off the main campus for the alternative learning.

“When we were talking to kids ourselves, they just felt really strongly that it helped them a lot to help them get out of the environment they were in and hit the refresh button,” Thompson said. “They were often distracted by whatever it may be at the other building — former friendships, former drama. And so the kids in so many words at other districts said being in a different location was helpful.”

Marysville’s TRI Academy will be housed in the Hope Center building, 212 Chestnut St., at the former East Elementary School. It will be able to accommodate up to 60 students. The new arrangement does not affect the center’s lease with the district, according to Superintendent Diane Mankins.

Mankins has said it would occupy a wing of four classrooms in the Hope Center with direct access to a parking lot from the wing.

“Using the available classroom space at the Hope Center is another positive in my mind,” Devine said. “We already had a great partnership with the Hope Center, but this just takes it to another level. Ashley's team’s research also indicated that an offsite location was helpful in creating a good environment.”

Mankins said the estimated cost is $50,000, which includes supplies, furniture, seat-licensing fees for some online content, technology and striping the parking lot.

“Also, we are able to use a transition grant that we received to offset costs,” she said. “We used $27,000 in grant dollars. So direct expense to the district is $23,000.”

Thompson said thus far, 44 students have signed up for classes for 2017-18.

“I have meetings set up two days in June for kids who are more than likely going to say yes, so we’ll be right at 60 kids,” she said.

She said at first, her team looked at upperclassmen who had credit deficiency and whether they fell below certain thresholds to graduate on time. Those students then were invited for a meeting among educators, the student and guardians.

“They have a choice whether or not to come. Nobody has been forced,” Thompson said. “We just come to an agreement — Is this the best place, or is it not? And everybody so far is agreeable and really wants to give it a try. So we’ve had positive outcomes since its inception.”

Credit deficiency isn’t the only criterion, though. A student also might need more personalized learning, she said.

“There are kids with unique needs, like high levels of anxiety,” she said. “They’re really thinking about trying online school at home. So they often went to the guidance counselor and inquired about TRI Academy.

“(Also) the guidance counselors made recommendations just based on unique needs. We have a couple of expecting moms; we have a couple of kids with really extreme anxiety who need that extra level of support and a smaller environment to be in.”

Mankins said in February that district leaders hope to remain staffing-neutral, with the exception of adding an educational aide, which would cost about $20,000.

The board approved a resolution to pay Thompson an annual salary of $86,000 as the administrator/personalized-learning coordinator for the school. That is an increase from the $71,400 a year Thompson had received as the district’s competency-based education coordinator. Her contract included an increase in the number of workdays from 215 to 225 per school year.

The staff at the alternative high school includes an educational aide, Thompson and two other teachers.

Mankins said she is “beyond pleased” with the plans for the school thus far.

“The support of the community and positive response from parents affirms we are helping a special group, and that's what is all about it,” she said.

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