Dixon Public Schools will develop alternative settings at junior high and high school

The Reagan Middle School side of the Division Street campus.

DIXON – Reagan Middle School and Dixon High School will have voluntary alternative programs to serve students who are struggling or for whom the traditional classroom setting is unworkable.

The Dixon Public Schools board decided at its June 22 meeting to approve the two initiatives, which are intended to operate on the two campuses starting this fall.

Presently, students requiring an alternative education setting are sent outside the district, such as the Regional Center for Change operated by the Regional Office of Education 47 in Rock Falls.

While the administration believes this can be a cost-effective plan, including savings with transportation, the main goal is to preserve the students’ connections within the school community.

“How do we provide interventions and supports to make sure that they stay on track to graduate?”
Superintendent Margo Empen said.

The program will require a dedicated teacher and paraprofessional in each building. For the first year, the program will be limited in the number of students who can participate.

At Reagan, the options program will serve at least four students but no more than 10. Principal Matt Magnafici provided an outline to the board that spells out that this alternative setting is not to be confused with students using an individual education plan. Rather, it’s for any student the administration sees needing help on a pathway to graduation, especially in the realm of credit recovery.

At-risk students would be evaluated based on specific needs, such as those who are parenting teens, those who are expelled, those who retained a grade or those whose behavior leads to truancy, those who are subject to anxiety in large settings, and those who are not finding success in the traditional classroom.

“Junior high is a tricky place,” Magnafici said. “We want to create a space where we can connect with them more on an individual basis – help them work through the things that are getting in the way of them being successful in a traditional classroom setting.”

The student learning time would be shorter, taking place from 8:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. To stay in the program, however, a 90% attendance rate would have to be maintained.

The high school version of the program would meet from 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 7:45 a.m. to noon Friday. Evaluations would be made every four and a half weeks.

High school Principal Jared Shaner said 12 to 15 students have been identified who meet the criteria.

“The No. 1 indicator of a kid graduating in four years is whether they’re on track after their freshman year. That’s statistically proven,” Shaner said.

Shaner said the high school would identify students struggling after three semesters, which is the midpoint of their sophomore year. The key is identifying those students who still can meet the state minimum requirement for a diploma of 17.5 credits within two school years.

“We want to give them an opportunity to have a high school diploma,” Shaner said.

The alternative school would use a credit recovery service – APEX – that allows students to work online. A teacher and an aide would help them.

Shaner said that in his experience, speaking with families and students at the outset about what the program is trying to achieve, and adapting it to their needs, is important.

Empen said the building principals would begin the hiring process for teachers for the program immediately after board approval.

Troy Taylor

Troy E. Taylor

Was named editor for and the Gazette and Telegraph in 2021. An Illinois native, he has been a reporter or editor in daily newspapers since 1989.