District phasing out alternative school

Sahyan Hipolito, Maria Vargas and Cynthia Barocio start the day in Mr. Rollins’ biology class at Compass High School.

Photo by Jennie McGhan
Sahyan Hipolito, Maria Vargas and Cynthia Barocio start the day in Mr. Rollins’ biology class at Compass High School.

— One of the Lower Valley’s few remaining alternative high schools is being phased out.

“We are not accepting new students to Compass High School, starting this semester,” Superintendent Kevin Chase said.

The district will consider individual situations, and may make exceptions for those who need an alternative school environment “… but, in general, we will not be enrolling new students.”

During the next year-and-a-half the school district will keep remaining students enrolled, allowing them to graduate from Compass, Chase said.

Students do have other alternatives, if they are struggling in the regular classroom. The Contract Learning Center and a partnership with Yakima Valley Community College’s local campus for the “Open Doors” program.

The School Board on Monday heard about the program from Ben Gonzalez, who told members it was implemented “… to recapture students who have dropped out of school.”

The School District and college reach out to students to re-engage them in the learning process, providing them an opportunity to earn a high school diploma, he said.

It is different from the 21-plus program, Gonzalez said. That’s because the new program, which began last October, is for students under age 21.

Students participate in an introductory phase of the program, “Step Up to College.” That prepares them for the college, Gonzalez said.

The “Open Doors” program helps students who left school due to issues like teen pregnancy, caring for family and not finding success in a traditional high school.

Gonzalez said students receive competency-based credit in addition to traditional credits.

“It’s just another opportunity for them,” Gonzalez said, noting students do not pay for the program.

The programs and phasing out Compass are designed to increase graduation rates, he said.

“I am very concerned about our district on-time graduation rate and our extended graduation rate,” he said.

The adjusted graduation rate in 2014 was 66.8 percent. It was nearly 75 percent the year prior.

The statistics show 40 percent of students do not graduate on time.

“We can and must do better,” Chase said. “We have to stop using Compass as our strategy for students who fall behind in ninth and 10th grades.”

Sunnyside had a similar issue when it closed Pride High School, he said.

“They were graduating less than 60 percent of their students on time,” Chase said.

After closing the alternative high school and changing the culture at Sunnyside High School, graduation rates increased, he said.

“They have taken ownership (and control) of each and every high school student in the district,” Chase said.

Sunnyside’s graduation rate now tops 90 percent.

Grandview now must do the same, Chase said.

“Will it be easy? No. Nothing worth doing is ever easy,” he said.

“This is very hard for me personally, because I see the great work Compass does with the kids who make it there,” he said.

Compass staff will continue to work for the district, he said.

Principal Brian Anderson is in his second stint at Compass, recently taking on the post again after Kim Gregory was named principal at Grandview High School.

He is both happy and sad to see Compass closing.

“I’ve always said in a perfect world Compass wouldn’t be necessary,” he said. “Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.”

He said, “… any school should be able to serve all its students.”

Anderson said he is optimistic and believes the changes must be made.

The Contract Learning Center will be available for students with health issues and the district has taken steps to offer other programs, he said.

Compass opened in the early 1990s under Principal Pat Burr.


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