Plans to switch up academy revealed

JOHNSTOWN — HFM BOCES District Superintendent David Ziskin on Friday briefed the Board of Education on plans to reconfigure the district’s alternative education program, the Adirondack Academy, to provide students more individualized attention by splitting up students in the middle and upper grade levels.

Currently the Adirondack Academy located at the HFM BOCES campus at 2755 Route 67 provides alternative education services to approximately 135 students in grades six through 12 from component school districts.

The program emphasizes small class sizes as teachers, administrators and counseling professionals work closely with students, families and outside agencies to identify and address the underlying causes of each student’s struggles.

“We want to be as productive as we can with moving those students towards graduation and a successful life and that’s quite a broad range of students who have experienced some sort of difficulty in the regular education in their home schools, which has led their districts to recommend us for a different type of schooling,” said Ziskin.

After performing an annual review of the program in discussion with Director and Principal of Special Education Michael Jacob, the district’s special and alternative education committee and officials with component school districts, Ziskin said HFM BOCES determined that sixth grade should be eliminated from the Adirondack Academy and program offerings for seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grade students should be relocated. Program offerings for grades 10 through 12 would remain at the HFM BOCES main campus.

“I think it will provide a more appropriate and more effective program,” said Ziskin, noting there are currently only two sixth graders enrolled in the program.

Ziskin said the district is currently working to secure an as yet undisclosed location to house the program for students in the lower grade levels. The new site would include space for ninth grade students in a separate hallway as students begin to focus on the next stages of their school careers as is typical at schools around the country for students entering their high school years.

“Ninth grade’s kind of a make or break year and at the end of the ninth-grade year our students are going to have a choice, will they be more successful, have we built their capacity to succeed in their home school environment or will they continue with us in an alternative setting that’s much smaller now and come over here to our main campus,” said Ziskin.

“I think it’s better than this idea where we take a whole, very, very broad ranging group of students of different age levels, grade levels and drop them in the top of this funnel and expect them to come right out and be graduates at the end,” he added.

The program reconfiguration will require staffing increases, contributing to increases in the tuition charged per student to component school districts who elect to enroll students in the alternative education program. Ziskin said he and HFM BOCES administrators have discussed the impact with officials at component school districts and he does not anticipate associated declines in program participation.

“What we’re doing is taking a more personalized approach, I think a more logical approach, but it takes more staffing,” he said. “What this will allow us to do is provide very small class sizes with the appropriate social and emotional supports to build these kids’ capacities to be successful in school. That’s been another heavy lift this year that we’ve done in conjunction with our partner school districts.”

By Patricia Older

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