Everything old is new again — and in education, trends and ideas recirculate. So it is with evening high school classes, an idea that was tried in Proviso Township High School District 209 back in the 1980s and has come to life again with the district’s new Evening School program.
The idea is to shift the school day for students who are unsuccessful in the traditional school environment, either because they are “chronic disrupters” or because they have fallen so far behind, they won’t graduate on time.
The D209 board approved the Evening School concept in June 2014, as a way to address chronic truancy and offer a credit recovery path for juniors who were not on track. The board approved $287,000 for an Alternative Learning Opportunity Program (ALOP), administered through the West 40 Regional Office of Education.
West 40’s staff already run successful ALOP programs at nearby districts, such as Morton High School D201 and Oak Park and River Forest High School D200. Hundreds of students at those schools have regained missing credits, allowing them to graduate, the proposal documents said. No other school in the West 40 group is using an evening school model though.
“The program is not a track; it’s an intervention,” said Kay Poyner Brown, West 40’s former executive director, who now runs the ALOP program. The goal is to support the student and give a push to acquire enough credits to graduate on time with the rest of the grade cohort.
The evening school program is divided into two parts: The DREAM program and the PEACE school. The program would eventually serve 60 students (30 in each class) from across the district.
The DREAM program (the acronym stands for “determination, responsibility, education, attitude and motivation”) starts at 2:30 p.m. before school gets out in the afternoon. This program is only for juniors who attend class for credit recovery of three hours, using the APEX computer system and one hour of social/emotional support services with a counselor or social worker.
PEACE school (Proviso Evening Alternative for Continuing Education) is for more troubled students or chronic disrupters who “have a hard time functioning in a regular school environment,” said Supt. Nettie Collins Hart after the January board meeting. Again, these students would use the APEX computers and have special counseling services built into the school period. The PEACE school would begin at 3:30 and end at 8 p.m.
But board member Theresa Kelly, who complained the program was too expensive in June when it was proposed, said she didn’t think school in the evening was a good idea.
“Those are the kids who have been in trouble. What are they going to do during the day while their parents are at work?” she asked, noting that Proviso ran a similar evening program in the 1980s called “Second Chance.”
“They’re going to be sending these students home on a PACE bus at 8 o’clock at night? That could be dangerous,” she added.
Kelly also didn’t like the fact that Proviso East High School moved the Navy ROTC program from their longtime home in a freestanding building.
Poyner Brown said other school districts in the state used the night school model. She said Administrator Dan Johnson, director of truancy/alternative programs, made some phone calls to the Rockford and Belleville school districts, which had or have evening school.
Johnson did not answer emails and phone calls from the Forest Park Review.
Belleville High School District is a much smaller district with a higher median family income and more white students than D209. Evening school starts after work hours at 6 p.m.
In December, West 40 announced Dewitt Kelly (no relation to Theresa Kelly), a veteran educator who worked through West 40 in D209 on a prior Illinois State Board of Education program, would head of the program.
DeWitt Kelly’s salary was not available in board documents. Currently, seven students are enrolled in the DREAM program, none in the PEACE school. For more than a quarter-million dollars, Kelly complained that was too much money.
Around $6,000 of state truancy money per student is available for regional offices of education — after one year of operation.
“Someone needed a job,” Theresa Kelly said.
This article has been updated to clarify the status of West 40 educator Dewitt Kelly, who is not retired and will head the evening school program at D209.