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Alternative learning makes shift

The Red Wing School District has set a plan in motion that will have the Goodhue County Education District taking over all of its alternative programming beginning next school year.

The Red Wing School Board approved the move 7-0 in a special meeting Wednesday evening.

Now all that's left is official approval from the GCED board. But neither GCED Executive Director Cherie Johnson nor Red Wing Director of Teaching and Learning Joe Jezierski think that will be a problem.

"I anticipate it will move forward," Johnson said Thursday.

"I'm not anticipating an issue," echoed Jezierski.

Once they get formal acceptance from GCED, Red Wing will become part of an alternative learning collaboration that includes Cannon Falls, Goodhue, Zumbrota-Mazeppa and Kenyon-Wanamingo school districts.

In the collaboration, the GCED will be able to share support personnel and work with other districts as they evolve the GCED alternative learning programs. It will also help the member districts conform to the Minnesota Department of Education's standards for alternative learning programs and make them eligible for targeted services funding, Jezierski said.

"The benefits are we are going to be ... building or enhancing programming for at risk kids. You can't beat that," Johnson said. "That should help us close that achievement gap."

The Red Wing School Board's motion included a clause that all future changes to the district's current alternative programs -- including existence, location and staff -- must be approved by the Red Wing board in addition to the GCED board.

"The local control piece is vital," Jezierski said.

The Red Wing School Board first discussed the issue at its June 3 meeting. Then, Jezierski explained that the Minnesota Department of Education had found two separate problems with its alternative learning programs when it came for a site visit May 14.

First, the GCED's new mid-level alternative learning program -- slated to be housed at Twin Bluff Middle School -- wouldn't make Red Wing School District eligible for targeted services programming for its elementary schools, contrary to what the districts previously believed.

In order to be eligible, both the mid-level ALC and the high school ALC had to be managed under the same district. The high school ALC -- Tower View Alternative Learning Center -- was then part of RWSD.

The second problem was that RWSD's mid-level alternative learning center didn't meet the state guidelines for an alternative learning center. As such, the program could not continue as it had been.

Jezierski told the board that collaborating with GCED would solve both of these problems.

But board members had many questions about the collaboration -- including how it might affect Tower View -- and, hesitant to approve the move without answers, tabled the matter.

In addition, Tower View staff spoke out against the move at that meeting, citing concerns about changes to the school's location, programming and staffing.

But this week, Jezierski said that there are no plans in place to move Tower View ALC.

"Our belief that we will be there for years to come," he said.

Tower View Principal Brian Cashman added that there are also no current plans to change the school's programming or staff.

"Tower View has a really great program and it serves students very well. Nothing's changing about that," he said.

With that assurance -- and some answered questions -- Tower View math teacher Heather Finholm said that she feels better about the GCED taking over the alternative learning programs.

"I do feel much more secure knowing that in the near future that Tower View and Red Wing's alternative learning programs will stay how they are if not improved," she said.

Finholm added that much of the Tower View staff's concerns rose from how fast the proposal was moving.

"I personally am much more hopeful knowing that time and thoughtfulness have gone into the process. The explanations and answers that were given were clear and as honest as they can be," she said. "Now that questions have been asked and answered, we can all start looking forward to next year."

Red Wing's inclusion in the collaboration will come before the GCED board at its June 27 meeting, Johnson said. Red Wing and GCED staff then will work during the summer to "get things going," Jezierski said.

RWSD's current alternative programs already planned for this summer -- including Twin Bluff Middle School's Jump Start -- will not be affected by the change and will go on as planned.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.