The Worthington Academy could open next year for high school students who are at risk of not graduating.

The Worthington Academy could open next year for high school students who are at risk of not graduating.

Worthington school leaders are considering opening the academy in a 3,500-square-foot pod of Phoenix Middle School, 2341 Snouffer Road.

It would serve up to 160 high school students who are struggling to finish their graduation requirements at any of the district's other high schools.

The district is seeing more students who are not able to succeed in a traditional setting, said Jeff Maddox, the district's director of innovation and school support. Their challenges might be academic, emotional or social, he said.

The program would offer a blend of online learning with personal attention from the four teachers who would be hired to teach math, English, social studies and science.

A part-time counselor would also be hired.

The cost would be $270,000 for staffing the first year, according to Maddox, who led a discussion of the proposal during the Worthington Board of Education's March 24 meeting. He said that the figure is based on the salaries and benefits of first-year teachers and would be higher if experienced teachers were to fill the positions.

The cost of renovation to the building would be about $300,000; technology and desks, $85,000; transportation, $50,400 per year. Busing would be provided from the students' base high schools and the Phoenix building.

Two sessions are being planned. Students would have the option of attending the morning or afternoon session, or both. They could attend their base school for half a day or spend part of the day interning at a local business or doing community service.

The academy is needed because more students are dropping out or leaving to attend online schools, Maddox said. Often, students who are discouraged leave to attend an online school and then return to public school only to find themselves further behind, he said.

Graduation rates at both Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne high schools do not meet the state benchmark of 95 percent.

Last year, about 93.6 percent of seniors graduated from Thomas Worthington. At Kilbourne, the percentage was 94.7.

Over the past four years, the district has lost 211 high school students to online schools, which allow students to stay home and complete credits online.

The district contacted the 38 students and their parents who left the district this past fall to attend online schools.

Of the 20 parents who responded, 18 said their children would have attended Worthington Academy, and 19 said they would return if the option were available.

Besides talking to parents and students, administrators visited similar programs in Hilliard, Olentangy and Westerville during the planning process.

"This is not a concept that is new to the Worthington schools," Maddox said. "We have been talking about this for a long time."