Sharon Sullivan
Free Press Staff Writer

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January 27, 2011
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'Turnaround' status only part of the story at R-5 high school

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Some kids do not fit inside the box when it comes to traditional public school education.

There are teenagers who don't like school or its social scene.

Others are good students, but have had health issues and end up missing a lot of school.

Students who have transferred from out-of-state sometimes find traditional schools won't accept all of their credits, thus delaying their graduation.

For 40 years, R-5 High School has sought to meet the educational needs for students like these.

"We have as many reasons for kids to be here as we have kids," said R-5 English teacher Kelly Weeks, who graduated from R-5 High School in 1984.

"There is no stereotypical R-5 kid," social studies teacher Mark Craddock added.

"We get quite a few very bright students, very creative, who wrestle with the traditional format," said Mary McGuire, a teacher at School Without Walls, one of R-5's four academic programs.

Currently, 310 students attend R-5, with another 18 who will attend an orientation Monday.

A SCHOOL OF CHOICE

The first R-5 program started in 1970, with students attending academic classes from 7:45 to 11:45 a.m. In the afternoon students attend vocational training which can consist of a job, an internship, a volunteer position or course work at the Career Center or Western Colorado Community College.

That R-5 morning program still exists and over the years other programs have been added.

The Student Learning Center is a modified version of the morning program where students attend classes in the afternoon and generally work in the mornings.

School Without Walls is a largely self-directed learning format. Teachers are there for tutoring or other assistance when needed and to keep students on track for completing credits in a timely fashion.

Another program, called A Key Performance is geared toward building workforce skills and involves students creating portfolios and giving presentations before the school board.

The Young Parent Program currently consists of 20 girls who are either pregnant or already have a baby. Students attend classes all day (no vocational component) in a modular building outside of the R-5 School where there's also a nursery for up to 10 infants. There's generally a waiting list to get into this program.

In fact, there's always a waiting list to get into all R-5 programs," principal Anna Goetz said.

"We have to preserve that student-teacher ratio (20-1) - that's why it works."

A pilot program - Grand River Virtual Academy - is an online curriculum that was attached to R-5 this year. Staff recruited students who had dropped out of school. The online program is currently being evaluated for effectiveness before adding the program permanently.

Students make a commitment to come to R-5 through a multi-step application process, Goetz said.

"We're a school of choice. It's a conscious decision," she said.

Students go through an orientation process. Then, for nine days R-5 candidates must show a level of maturity and degree of self-motivation.

"Discipline is a far lesser issue here than in traditional high schools," McGuire said.

Weeks said she has seen maybe three or four fights, during the nine years she's taught at R-5.

"I used to see that daily in my traditional high school," she said.

The R-5 building is old and space is limited. There is no library on the premises, no cafeteria, or large meeting room - "our biggest need is space," Goetz said.

There are the Five Rs, however, which stand for relevance, relationships, responsibility, respect and readiness. A poster with the message hangs on the wall of the office.

"Our students learn that from the minute they walk in the door," Goetz said. "We'd lose the majority of our students if we didn't have staff that cared about making relationships."

EXPLAINING TURNAROUND STATUS

Last year R-5 was named a "turnaround" school, meaning it has not met state requirements for standardized testing scores and graduation rates. The school must provide a unified improvement plan and has five years to improve scores.

"It's true, based on comparisons of R-5 to all other schools in the state, our CSAP scores and graduation rates are not better than 50 percent of traditional schools in Colorado," Goetz said.

However, R-5's targeted population is largely those students who are already at risk of dropping out of school, R-5 counselor Willa Shepardson said.

"We graduate 90 to 100 students every year - most of whom would not have graduated if they hadn't come here," Shepardson said.

Misconceptions arise about the school when people look at the turnaround status, apart from the whole of what R-5 is, Goetz said.

Several years ago R-5 chose to retain its Tier-1 school status which means its CSAP and SAT scores are judged by the same criteria as schools like Grand Junction, Central, Palisade and Fruita Monument high schools.

"Our turnaround status is based largely on a test given to ninth and tenth graders," Goetz said. "We mostly serve juniors and seniors and beyond."

Only 25 students at R-5 (one freshman and two sophomores) took the CSAP test last year. Two of those students enrolled just in time to take the test.

Typically, tenth-graders that come to R-5 have been out of school for awhile.

"Yes, there are things we need to work on, but there are amazing things going on here. Our students are amazingly successful," McGuire said.

As an "intervention" school R-5 could apply for Tier-2 status, which would mean R-5's scores and graduation rates would be judged by different criteria.

R-5 chose to retain its Tier-1 status years ago to make it easier for students who wanted to join the U.S. Navy.

The Navy requires recruits who have graduated from Tier-2 schools to have first attended college, or score significantly higher on a military skills test, than those who graduated from traditional schools, Shepardson said.

The school is currently researching the pros and cons of applying for Tier-2 status, Goetz said.

Shepardson graduated from R-5 High School in 1978. If it wasn't for R-5 she wouldn't have graduated, she said.

"When I told my vice principal I was pregnant, he said: 'When are you dropping out of school?'"

"That's how it was back then," Shepardson said.


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The Post Independent Updated Jan 27, 2011 09:33PM Published Jan 27, 2011 05:10PM Copyright 2011 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.