A consultant gave the Peekskill Board of Education a glimpse into the nature and structure of alternative education as the school district develops a program for students who are not succeeding in regular high school classrooms.
The Tuesday night presentation was coupled with an update on the district’s plans to transform space in the basement of the Administration Center into three classrooms serving 40 alternative education students beginning in September.
The goal of alternative education is to engage students who have been disconnected and unsuccessful in traditional programs, consultant Jeff Piontek told the board. Piontek was a science teacher in the South Bronx before working his way up to the director of instructional and informational technology in New York City. Now based in Hawaii, where he opened a charter school for underachieving native Hawaiians, he serves on that state’s Economic Development Workforce Committee.
In contrast to years past, 21st-century learning is social and collaborative, Piontek said as he introduced his presentation, “Hybrid Blended High School Alternative Education Learning Center.” Students are connected, they network, their digital footprints (Facebook and Twitter, for example) are important components of their lives. “This is their world,” Piontek said, and “We must change our pedagogy” to engage them in it. Collaborative learning will help students move into a collaborative workplace after school, he said.
Digital/online learning, coupled with face-to-face time with teachers in classrooms, makes it possible to design a customized learning plan for each student instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach, Piontek said. The learning plans are developed before the students enter the program.
A typical day of alternative education would begin at 8 a.m. and run until 4:10 p.m., with the final hour dedicated to homework and after-school help for students who want it. The schedule includes short breaks between classes. Teachers who think “outside the box” and challenge the status quo are essential to the success of the program, he said.
Piontek outlined a timeline for Peekskill’s program that begins in April with planning and evaluation of available educational materials and expands in May and June to professional development. Staff development must be ongoing, he emphasized.
In response to a comment from board member Douglas Glickert that elements of customized plans could benefit all students, Piontek said online learning is “becoming more mainstream,” helping reduce costs while exposing students to “virtual classroom” instruction that a district might not be able to offer in a regular classroom. For additional details about Piontek's presentation, please click here, then click on March 27, click on “view the agenda,” scroll down to Section E, then click on the three attachments.
Meanwhile, district officials are pursuing ways to cover the estimated $424,059 cost of the Administration Center work under the $3.16 million bond issue approved last year for building and safety improvements throughout the district. The bonded projects, which include the Peekskill High School cafeteria, are being reviewed by the state Education Department.
A priority list developed by Carmine Crisci, director of facilities, shows funds being made available for the alternative education space by temporarily shelving aspects of other bonded projects, primarily rehabilitation of recreation areas behind the Administration Center. Glickert suggested that improvements to the center’s gymnasium be sidelined instead of the exterior work but Crisci replied that the gym is heavily used by programs that cannot be accommodated at the high school.
Board President Joseph Urbanowicz, while supporting Crisci’s priority list, questioned whether the language of the bond resolution, approved May 17, 2011, prohibits incorporating the alternative education project. The question was referred to the district’s bond counsel. Urbanowicz noted that the district is trying to maximize state aid for the bonded projects.