BOCES eyes closing alternative school

JOHNSTOWN – The Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Education Services is conducting meetings with its component districts to determine whether to reorganize funding for the Alternative High School or close it altogether, HFM BOCES Superintendent Patrick Michel said Friday.

“We are trying to save it,” Michel said. “There is a lack of district participation, but we are trying to work with several districts that may want to increase their participation. We will be contacting the districts again on Tuesday and we will be working over the weekend to crunch numbers and do what we can to save the program.”

The Alternative High School, at the HFM?BOCES?campus on Route 67, is a program serving students in grades nine through 12 “whose needs are not met by our traditional secondary schools,” according to the HFM?BOCES?website. Many students who attend traditionally have had disciplinary or other social-interaction problems at their local schools.

Michel said the district also is considering a redesign of program, although he couldn’t share the way it could be redesigned until he has further conversations with the associated districts.

Michel said the current program’s staff works hard and does the best it can, but several districts have withdrawn from participating.

“It has gotten to the point where we have to make the decision on whether to close the program or redesign it,” Michel said.

He said having fewer students in the program increases the cost per student.

“So if districts start to withdraw their students little by little, the costs start to escalate and it becomes this vicious cycle,”?he said. “What happens is the cost gets higher and districts say they can’t afford it and start to withdraw more, to the point where the program either collapses or we take a breath and look at redesigning it.”

Michel said the Alternative High School is a valuable asset for area school districts, and others agree.

Angela Webster of Oppenheim, a student at the alternative school, said if the school is eliminated, many students who have trouble in the traditional high school setting would lose their chance to earn a diploma.

Webster and several other students from the alternative high school will be holding signs and banners Monday at 10 a.m. in front of the alternative school to show their support for the program.

Webster said the staff told students this week the alternative school is in danger of closing because of financial difficulty due to a lack of attendance.

“As soon as I found out about it I tried to find ways to let the local community know so that something could be done to save the school,” Webster said. “People think of an Alternative High School and their first thought is usually, ‘That is where all the bad kids go,’ but this school is so much more than that. These people and teachers care and will help you graduate, which is very important to a lot of kids.”

Webster said she wrote a letter to the editor of the The Leader-Herald and to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office in an attempt to save the school.

“Before I came to alternative, I never imagined myself actually graduating high school, but this school gave me the self-confidence and courage to fight through my high school years and with their help I know I can do it,” Webster said.

Levi Pascher can be reached at