Mifflin County School Board: As Alpha program grows, it may need new home

LEWISTOWN – As the Mifflin County School District’s Alpha Program continues to grow, concerns have arisen as to whether or not there is enough space at the Mifflin-Juniata Career and Technology Center to handle the student load.

During a workshop meeting of the Mifflin County School Board on Thursday, Superintendent James Estep said the program has filled the space at the CTC, currently in an annex of the building, and floated an idea of moving it, along with the district’s administration and maintenance offices into the vacant former Highland Park Elementary School.

Estep said he and Tracey Jones, the district’s director of special education, have been discussing the situation in recent weeks and decided to go to the board for more guidance.

“The program now includes 176 students,” Jones told the board. Jones said the Alpha Program was instituted this year as an opportunity for students to gain high school credits through a combination of online and brick and mortar curriculum.

“The program is an extension of our distance education program,” Jones explained. “It’s a place to have our own cyber option for students so they don’t have to go out of the district to get that.”

In addition to the high school level, administrators on Thursday said the program is extending into the elementary grade levels in an effort dubbed Mifflin County Online, which is also expected to grow.

Estep said the district already has done some retrofitting to the CTC annex to accommodate the program, however, it is rapidly outgrowing its space.

“It’s starting to burst at the seams,” he reported. “To be honest, we didn’t know it would grow like this. To continue at the CTC, the other side of the annex would need work and could sustain our goals. However, it wouldn’t allow for what the growth would be with the Mifflin County Online Program. I anticipate that taking off as well. To me, as an educator, it would be ideally nice if once they hit capacity they’re in one area. There’s no way to put both in the annex.

“My question is, do we want to discuss the one building left that’s just sitting there? What could we do with Highland Park? Of course, we wouldn’t recommend putting kids in there until roof repairs are made.”

Estep said the district has already mulled over possible options when it discussed moving the CTC to Highland Park a couple years ago, which included closing the current administration building and moving those offices, as well as the offices of the district’s maintenance department. “If we were to do that, we would still have room for K-12 non-traditional learners,” Estep pointed out.

Estep said locating the program at Highland Park would be especially beneficial to secondary students, who could simply walk from the junior and high schools to attend classes in the Alpha Program.

At this stage, Estep reiterated he is only seeking direction from the board whether to even look into the idea of using Highland Park in this or any other capacity.

“I’m not proposing anything right now,” he said. “I have no idea of cost or whether it would be reimbursable from the state.”

Estep said other options could include going ahead and renovating the rest of the CTC annex and find spaces in some elementary schools have have vacant classroom space to be available for the younger kids in the Mifflin County Online Program.

Whatever decisions lie ahead, Jones said the Alpha Program is working to keep kids in the district, which is good for dropout rates and state reimbursement per student. Estep concurred.

“The program is preventing a lot of kids from going to charter schools or dropping out altogether,” he stated. “If they aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, they’re sent back to their home schools. If they don’t do well there, they become a casualty.”

Estep said he will contact the McKissick Architectural Firm, the company that produced the drawings for the possible CTC move to Highland Park, and obtain estimates for re-doing the drawings to incorporate the Alpha Program there as well.

In other business Thursday, Vance Varner, director of secondary education, announced that barring any more school closings due to inclement weather, graduation day for seniors has been scheduled for Wednesday, June 4, beginning at 6 p.m. at Mitchell Field in Lewistown. “If it rains on Wednesday, then graduation would be on Thursday, June 5, also at 6 p.m. at Mitchell Field,” Varner noted. Should it rain on Thursday, Varner said the plan is to move graduation to the high school gymnasium at the same time. The gymnasium would be the preferred location than the school auditorium because seating capacity is 500 more in the gym, Varner said. It was also noted that board member AnneMarie Swineford will speak at the graduation ceremony.

Also on hand Thursday was Jerry Myers, representing Reynolds Construction, project managers for the Indian Valley Elementary and Mifflin County Junior High School renovation projects. Myers said finishing touches are being put in place at the elementary center, with some exterior work set to get under way that was delayed due to winter weather conditions.

The junior high school project is ongoing with asbestos removal and other activities gearing up, Myers said. In response to concerns from some teachers at the school regarding dust, Myers said, “We just got the report on dust. We sat down with the contractors today. As soon as we’re made aware of any concerns, we address it. We take this very seriously.”

Estep added, “JSMI Environmental is doing air quality testing all the time. I can reassure you there have been no findings of asbestos in the air as each section is abated. They’re monitoring for other particulants as well. Everything is at a safe level.”

Other items up for consideration at the March 27 business meeting include:

A request for the $945 fee to be waived for use of the high school auditorium and other areas needed by the Mifflin County Farm Bureau to hold its “Measure the Candidates” night on May 8.

Recommended approval of a request for the $926.25 total fee to be waived for use of the high school by the Mifflin County Music Booster Club on Nov. 14 and 15 for the 2014 MC Music Booster Holiday Expo.

A recommendation that Mitchell Jodon be deleted from the cafeteria substitute list effective May 15, 2013. Estep said this date is correct and is still necessary because it was overlooked last spring.

A recommendation that the law firm of Knepp and Snook be appointed solicitor for the Board of School Directors to serve from April 1, 2014 to July 1, 2015, and until a successor shall have been appointed. Also, a recommendation to appoint Champion Law Office LLC to serve as special counsel; and the appointment of Rhodes & Sinon LLP to serve as special counsel. The special counsels are being retained to continue work that is already in progress, Estep said.

Approval of the addition of Rose Callahan and Stacie Frey to the cafeteria substitute list.

A recommendation to approve Zane Peters as a substitute health room assistant.

Approval of the following deletions from the substitute teacher list: Darcie Crock, Sarah Ebken, Allison Cleary, Marsha Yearick, Laurel Pecora, Dusty Sipes and Sadie Schomaker.

A recommendation to add Lori Saltzer, mathematics, to the substitute teacher list.

The following additions to the substitute paraprofessional list: Zane Peters and Brandy Chesney.

A recommendation to hire Jennifer Bubb as a paraprofessional at the high school effective Feb. 3.

A recommendation to approve the Tuscarora Intermediate Unit #11 general operating budget for 2014-15 in the amount of $3.4 million.