South Fayette becomes latest to withdraw from alternative high school program

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South Fayette, Chartiers Valley and Cornell school districts will stop sending students to an alternative high school in North Fayette after the current school year.

South Fayette's school board voted 9-0 Tuesday to withdraw from participation in the Alternative Center for Education, ACE. The program is on the campus of Parkway West Career and Technology Center on Steubenville Pike.

Superintendent Bille Rondin-elli said decline in enrollment, due largely to competition from other programs, has made tuition too expensive.

The annual cost of a half-day program could rise to $17,000 per student, an "exorbitant" amount, she said.

"It's unfortunate because the program is a very good one," Ms. Rondinelli said.

Chartiers Valley school board members voted Nov. 13 to end participation, and Cornell directors voted Nov. 15 to withdraw at the end of the 2012-13 school year.

"We were sad to do that, but it just kind of came down to dollars and cents, unfortunately," Cornell high school principal Aaron Thomas said.

Seven high school students from South Fayette will finish the school year in the center and then be placed in other programs that meet their individual needs, Ms. Rondinelli said.

Some other alternative programs in the region include those operated by Keystone Oaks, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in McKees Rocks and Holy Family Institute in Emsworth, Mr. Thomas said.

Also, many districts are creating their own alternative education programs and cyber schools, he said.

Earlier this month, the board of the alternative school for grades 9-12 was poised to vote on closing the program but postponed the decision until January at the urging of parents, students and graduates.

The center, founded in 1989, is operated by a consortium of Carlynton, Chartiers Valley, Cornell, Montour, Moon, Mt. Lebanon, Quaker Valley, South Fayette, Sto-Rox, Upper St. Clair and West Allegheny.

Keystone Oaks withdrew from the program several years ago when it formed an in-house alternative school.

John DiSanti, the West Allegheny superintendent, said Nov. 21 that he is part of a committee examining ways to salvage the ACE program, perhaps by changing the way it is delivered to students.

West Allegheny school Director Robert Ostrander said the program probably cannot be saved as it is currently structured.

South Fayette board member Alan Vezzi said school districts agree the program is valuable, but the total enrollment is too low.

"Unless everybody is supporting it, we can't sustain it," he said.

Enrollment dropped from 78 in 2009-10 to 44 this year.

Ms. Rondinelli said South Fayette typically has sent five or six students a year, but other districts have not met their quotas, a situation that has driven up the costs for the districts of the remaining pupils.

The ACE program employs eight staff members, including five teachers of English, social studies, science, math and health/physical education, according to the program's website. Students also may enroll in Parkway West career and technical courses.

The center's philosophy says the program addresses the needs of the most at-risk students by providing an environment different from a traditional high school.

education - neigh_west

Andrea Iglar, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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