A new truancy services program which will offer alternative class work and counseling to chronically absent Proviso Township High School students was easily approved by the District 209 school board at its June meeting. 

The program serve 60 students in its first year and will cost $281,000 the school board learned. With one nay vote, the board voted to partner with the West 40 Intermediate Services Center to run a truancy program called Alternative Learning Opportunities Program (ALOP) beginning in the coming school year. The program will give counselling and special credit recovery classes to 4th year students at Proviso East and West high schools who are in danger of not graduating. 

The board also voted to appoint administrator Daniel Johnson to the position of Director of Truancy/Alternative Programs at a salary of $126,700. 

But board member Theresa Kelly, the nay vote on both agenda items, said she thought the project was too expensive and would not serve enough students. Kelly said the district’s former policy of hiring truancy officers to go to the homes of absent students was proven to work in the past and should be brought back.

The district began to look at truancy issues after it experienced a spike in chronic truancy which jumped to 46.5 percent in the 2012-13 school year. Chronic truancy is defined by the state board of education as having more than nine unexcused absences. The Illinois Report Card reported Proviso East High School had a truancy rate of 79 percent, or 1,520 students chronically truant. At PMSA, the truancy rate jumped from 4 percent to 29 percent. 

Students who are chronically truant are 35 percent more likely to fail a class if they have 10 or more unexcused absences, compared to a rate of 5 percent with five or fewer absences, studies have shown.

In November, the board heard a proposal to partner with West 40 to run the ALOP program. 

West 40 board Executive Director Kay Poyner Brown said the education umbrella group for West Suburban Cook County had experience running ALOP programs at Oak Park and River Forest District 200 and Morton High School District 201.

Through a quirk of state education funding, truancy funds for suburban Cook County are almost non-existent at the district level, with school districts receiving $450 per student, Poyner Brown said in November. However, the state will pay up to $6,119 per student for programs administered through a regional office of education. The program proposed would also tap into federal Title 1 grant money for lower income students. 

The proposed pilot program would serve 30 students each at Proviso East and West high schools the first year. The program would provide alternative classes in a special classroom for selected students as well as ‘in-school support services’ to address social and emotional needs the students may have. One hour of after-school counselling would also be available. Students would take online coursework for credit recovery through Apex Learning systems from 7:50 a.m. to 11 a.m. daily.

Apex has been criticized by the school board for being hacked by students during the 2013 summer school period, when some 50 students obtained codes and logged on to do coursework and complete supposedly proctored exams outside of class. It was unclear at press time whether in light of these experiences Apex would still be used for the ALOP program.

Estimated personnel costs for ALOP would be $70,000 each for two teachers, four part-time counsellors for $9,600 each and four part-time literary support teachers for $9,600 each. In addition, the program would require 60 computers at a cost of $57,000 and licenses for Apex costing $7,200.

West 40 would receive 25 percent of the grant money to administer the program. 

Kelly said she thought the group was using Proviso students to fund their own organization.

She pointed out board minutes for the West 40 March 14 meeting that mentioned that Brown was “working with Proviso for a new ALOP for junior and senior truant students, which will bring some revenue and also provide support for schools.”

“That’s nice that West 40 is making money,” she said at the June 10 board meeting.

After West 40 took its cut, the district was told it would be reimbursed around $205,000 if the ADA paid its reimbursement prorated at 90 percent for 60 students. The program would expand to serve 100 students the second year.  

Kelly complained in November that a previous West40 federal initiative at Proviso called Tapestry was a failure. Poyner Brown acknowledged the program didn’t work because the district and the organization had communication problems.

“Our goal is to make you successful,” she said in November.

Kelly, although she was voted down, said in a phone interview Monday she still believed the best approach was district truancy officers who showed up at students’ homes and brought them to school. Kelly pointed out there were staff at the district who already were being paid to deal with truancy issues.

“For 60 kids, it’s costing $280,000. We should be able to do the whole population of the school for that kind of money,” she said. “It seems like we could be putting our money to better use.”

Contact: jean@forestparkreivew

Twitter: @FP_Review

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...

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