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Board questions administrators over alternative high school

November 16, 2018

GREENWICH — In an effort to tighten the Greenwich Public Schools’ budget for the 2019-20 fiscal year, administrators plan to stop renting an off-site space for Windrose, the district’s alternative high school.

School officials do not have a definite new location for the program yet, but are “looking at all options,” Greenwich High School Dean of Student Life Lorraine Termini said this week.

The program, unveiled in 2017-18, currently is housed at St. Catherine of Siena church in Riverside, at a cost of $222,000 a year.

It is the latest in a series of alternative high programs Greenwich has run, over 44 years, and under many names and many roofs.

At a budget meeting Wednesday night, Termini and Chief Pupil Personnel Services Officer Mary Forde explained the past and present of the alternative programs, but school board members took the chance to question their future and those of related services.

Before Windrose, the town ran two alternative education programs: an alternative high school, for students who didn’t do well in the traditional Greenwich High setting, and another that specifically taught special-needs students.

The original alternative high school, the Community Learning Program, started 44 years ago at Christ Church. It moved to the Glenville Civic Center, changed its name and moved to the high school’s media center in 1981. Then it moved to the old administration wing (now Cantor House), then to Parkway School, then Sacred Heart.

ARCH, a parallel program that served special education students, began 27 years ago. It started in the Havemeyer Kitchen, moved to Bank Street, then to Greenwich Reform Synagogue on Stanwich Road, International School at Dundee, the Byram Archibald Neighborhood Center and Millbank Road.

The two merged at St. Catherine’s in 2013 because the programs started meeting children with similar needs: CLP started accepting special education children with Individualized Education Plans, and ARCH took in students without them, Termini said.

Enrollments began to decline, which administrators said was because of stigmas against such programs. To attract new students, they redesigned the program and called it Windrose.

But school board members wanted to know where Windrose fit within the myriad other forms of support the district offers students.

“It’s hard to understand which program are serving what type of students,” school board member Lauren Rabin said. “We’ve had a lot of questions over various support programs.”

Programs and services are not the same thing, Termini said. While there are many support services, the district considers Windrose special because it functions as its own school.

Over the years, district officials have struggled to partner with J.M. Wright Technical High School in Stamford, and a few board members wondered whether Windrose students could dual-enroll there, citing the ability to transfer the Wright certificate to area colleges.

“The new Windrose is fantastic because of job-training and work-based learning opportunity for students,” board Vice Chair Jennifer Dayton said. “I am encouraging you to take advantage of offerings at Wright Tech where it fits students’ passions and future careers.”

District administrators said dual-enrollment is not possible at this time, but they are investigating it, they said in an email.

Students want to graduate with a Greenwich High School diploma, which they get from Windrose — a barrier to partnering with Wright Tech, Termini said.

“It’s not like we don’t want to work with them, but it is a barrier,” Termini said.

Administrators have not shown board members percentages indicating student success, or goals for the future, board Secretary Barbara O’Neill said.

She also questioned the decision to trade an in-house social worker for a guidance counselor.

The current guidance counselor is bilingual and can do counseling, Forde said.

“When the shift (with Windrose) changed to earning (high school) credit, credit became critical,” she said. “If it was just a social worker, we would not have someone there to work on credit status.”

jo.kroeker@hearstmediact.com

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