FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - A new state regulation taking effect next year will help Kentucky track its alternative schools and find out more about the schools' at-risk students.
The new rules set minimum requirements for programs that typically target at-risk kids, and stipulate that they meet or exceed the offerings found in traditional classrooms.
The rules also standardize accounting procedures and student data collection, processes that vary from district to district now.
Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the Department of Education, told The State Journal in Frankfort that the new rules are the first comprehensive regulation of Kentucky's alternative schools (http://bit.ly/nnT2OY). They were approved by the state Board of Education earlier this month.
State officials are seeking a better understanding of what's going on in Kentucky's alternative programs, like who is attending, why and for how long, said Dewey Hensley, associate commissioner of education.
Under the current system, local school districts keep data on their alternative programs, but they don't report the numbers to the Department of Education. State education officials don't know how Kentucky's alternative programs are performing - or even how many exist.
Beginning next fall, school districts must report data on the students who attend their alternative programs, entry and exit dates, why they left and whether placement was voluntary.
Alan Spade, director of Wilkinson Street School, says his staff must develop a plan for reporting the now-required data.
"They are asking for a lot more data than we've given before," he said. "It is going to put a little bit more of a burden on us because we will have to keep another set of records."
Gross says it's easy to identify alternative programs that have their own school building, but others are more elusive.
The state defines an alternative program as a class room, center or campus "designed to remediate academic performance, improve behavior or provide an enhanced learning experience."
"We have a wide variety of alternative schools in Kentucky - some that are on par with any school nationally, and others that certainly need to improve to get higher graduation rates and meet the needs of the kids they serve," Hensley said.
The new regulation requires that local school boards establish goals for their alternative programs, eligibility guidelines, a process for moving kids in and out and collaboration with outside agencies like the court system and social services.
Melissa Rogers, principal of The Academy in Frankfort, says she sees the new rules as an opportunity for her staff to be more innovative in how they educate teens.
The whole concept of alternative education is changing, she says, as the focus shifts from a temporary fix to a path toward graduation and future success.
"As we move toward thinking about how to get kids to graduate, it's meant to be helpful to us," she said.