By RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY
PDT Staff Writer
Eleven local school districts are working together with the Educational Service Center to create one new conversion school, called Southern Ohio Academy. Expecting to open this fall, the Academy will tear down local district barriers and offer a blend of online and classroom instruction to 7-12 grade students who can’t be served by the traditional system.
“Last year, about April or May, we had for quite some time looked for different formats to capture some of those students inside the region that we thought we were losing and missing and not really catering to as well as what we possibly could. These were the harder-to-go-after students, in some cases. So we began a search of what potential there was for beginning this academy,” said Stan Jennings, superintendent of the Scioto County Career Technical Center.
Included in the conversion school Academy are the South Central Ohio Educational Service Center (SCOESC), Scioto County Career Technical Center (SciotoTech), Northwest, Valley, Clay, Wheelersburg, Washington-Nile, Bloom-Vernon, Green, Minford, Oak Hill in Jackson County and Manchester in Adams County. Collectively they are pursuing several grant opportunities through the state of Ohio.
SciotoTech is the sponsoring school, the SCOESC is the fiscal agent, and Northwest Superintendent Todd Jenkins was elected president of the Academy Governing Board.
“Our job is to educate every kid that comes though our doors, but sometimes those kids aren’t in our doors and we have to reach out to them,” Jenkins said.
Lowell Howard, superintendent of the SCOESC,said all of the superintendents wanted the same things, but didn’t have the vehicle to make it happen.
“I think this has become the vehicle, and everybody understands that now and wants this to work,” he said.
Howard said the Academy will serve kids of all educational levels, regardless of from which school district they come. Even students who are already enrolled full-time in another school district by offering more opportunities for dual enrollment students, summer school or make-up classes.
“All of the superintendents felt like we needed to do something to offer some alternative education, outside of the traditional brick-and-mortar schools,” Howard said. “When Stan (Jennings) had explored the conversion school and was looking at that, we felt that this was the answer. We could go from the whole realm of those kids that may want to be home-schooled to the kids that could be potential drop-outs; all the way up to Advanced Placement and offering those classes online.”
Jennings said the program will be curriculum-based and matched by what the local districts are doing. So if there ever is a student who leaves the Academy to go back to their home school district, they can always come back without missing any lessons.
“We’re going to do a lot of blended (online) cirricullum, but we’ve still got a model where the kids will sit in the chair. We’d like to see these kids occassionally. A lot of people want to sit the kids over there and not look at them any more; we don’t want to do that,” Jennings said.
New Boston School last year embarked on its own conversion school project called “School 21.” Howard said the Academy will be different, and may be the first time that many different schools have come together to form one new conversion school.
“What we’re doing here — the whole structure of this school — is extremely unique,” he said.
The Southern Ohio Academy is still in the early development stages, and is not yet ready to begin accepting students or hiring new teacher. The school is expected to begin offering classes this fall.
Ryan Scott Ottney can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 235, or firstname.lastname@example.org.