Sioux Falls will open a second alternative high school this fall, seeking to prevent its most at-risk students from dropping out.
The school board agreed Monday to a one-year contract with the Nashville, Tenn., company Ombudsman to run the 66-student school for $283,800. The location hasn’t been determined, but it will not share space with an existing school.
Assistant superintendent Fred Aderhold said about 200 Sioux Falls students drop out at age 18 each year. The new venture will be a school of last resort, offering individualized learning plans, daily counseling and a teacher for every 10 students.
“We want all kids to have a high school diploma when they leave the district,” Aderhold said.
The teaching model shares similarities with Joe Foss alternative school, but students must have a sixth-grade reading level to get into Joe Foss, which is not the case with Ombudsman. And where Joe Foss uses only Apex for its online classes, Aderhold said Ombudsman has access to multiple programs that will provide classes appropriate to the skill levels of each student.
Ombudsman will not replace Joe Foss, Aderhold said, but is expected to become a permanent part of the school district. District officials said the contract, which they did not make available Monday, includes terms for three additional years.
Ombudsman has schools in more than 120 districts in 18 states. One of those, Aurora Public Schools in Colorado, has seen enrollment in its Rebound program grow from just less than 100 former dropouts and expelled students in fall 2008 to almost 300 today. Aurora Deputy Superintendent Tony Van Gytenbeek said he likes the program’s student assessments and personalized plans.
During Monday’s meeting, Sioux Falls Public School Superintendent Pam Homan said more than 85 percent of Ombudsman students graduate. But the company’s own website makes a considerably more modest claim: that 85 percent either “graduate, earn credits or return to their district school closer to or at grade level.”
The school board gave the plan enthusiastic approval.
“We are not going to give up on anybody,” Debbie Hoffman said.
If the school fills all 66 of its contracted slots, it will cost the district $4,300 per student. That’s less than what the school district gets from the state this year in per-student aid.
“It’s a no-brainer,” board member Kate Parker said.