In a surprise move that blindsided the governing board of Horizons Community High School, the administration of Wyoming Public Schools (WPS) is pressuring its school board NOT to renew the charter of Horizons Community High School. Members of the Horizons’ governing board have still not been contacted directly by WPS; they were recently informed about the this devastating news by Horizons’ director, Teriena Schwartz. “I am totally shocked that the Wyoming Public Schools would fail to renew Horizons’ charter. Even though we are a volunteer board, I would think we should have been given at least a year’s advance warning so that we could seek alternatives for our charter and our students. We are talking 200 students who may have nowhere suitable to continue their education next year.” says governing board president, Estelle Slootmaker.
Horizons High School has been a national leader in alternative education for nearly 30 years. Its program has helped hundreds of young people find themselves and prepare for successful futures when traditional programs failed them.
WPS cites budget constraints and low test scores impacting WPS averages on the new mandated state tests as reasons for abandoning Horizons. However, a closer look shows that neither of these reasons is valid. “Horizons has always and continues to perform well within its budget. This year we have $400,000 in our fund equity–an amount well over our auditors’ suggested amount. We cover our own staff salaries and pay rent to WPS for our building. Because Horizons is a charter school, our students’ test scores are not factored into the WPS test score averages. Having Horizons as an alternative for district students actually can help WPS keep their test scores higher than if our students were to return to Wyoming or Rogers High Schools and be tested there,” Slootmaker says.
Since failing to meet AYP in the 2006-2007 school year, the staff at Horizons has been working extra hard along with Michigan Department of Education mentors and the Kent Intermediate School District on school improvement. Slootmaker estimated that the state has poured about $200,000 into these efforts. The school is already seeing improved attendance and a 10% across the board rise on state mandated test scores. “Many of the students who come to Horizons are on their last leg. Poverty, unhealthy home environments, different learning styles or behavior challenges left them unable to succeed in the traditional school setting. Many come to us with lower-elementary level reading and math skills. The progress they make at Horizons is phenomenal. Instead of closing Horizons, WPS should look to it as a guide in setting the direction for other schools in the district.”
Horizons’ student body includes students who are self- supporting, working full-time and single parents as well as those in traditional families. Some have learning disabilities. Some have had past behavior issues. Some spend two hours every morning and another two hours every afternoon on city buses just to get back and forth to a school that feels like family.
While the governing board is baffled by the direction WPS seems to be taking, they wonder about rumors they have heard. Some have heard that due to the construction of a new Walgreens/strip mall across the street, WPS may be looking to sell the property to developers. Others feel that the WPS administration, most of whom have not been around since the school’s inception, have not made an effort to see how well Horizon’s program works and even find it an embarrassment.
“Our students don’t fit the traditional mold–and neither do our staff or programs. That’s why the program works,” she says. “Different kids require different approaches. Trying to fit all kids into the same educational approach not only hurts the kids, but also negatively impacts our communities.”
Those seeking to speak out about renewing Horizons’ charter are encouraged to attend the next board meeting, 7 p.m. Monday April 28, 2008 at WPS administrative office, 3575 Gladiola SW Wyoming MI 49519. Or call Supt. Felske, 616.530.7550.