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Alternative school gets national look

National conferences are typically a time for Harrison Countians to gather information to bring back home and possibly implement into programs here that are helpful.
But earlier this month, a group from this county traveled to California where they were the ones who provided information that might get used elsewhere.
‘We sent in a proposal’ to be considered as a presenter, said Debbie Heazlitt, executive director of the Harrison County Alternative Education Center.
The group’s topic was truancy, which, ironically, Heazlitt said seemed to be the unplanned theme of the conference held March 3 to 7 in San Diego.
Truancy appears to be a major problem throughout the nation, Heazlitt said. Not only does it hurt a student’s chance at completing his or her secondary education, it can result in a hefty price tag as truant students are placed in out-of-county facilities, she said.
Gordon Ingle, who serves as legal counsel for the alternative school, said Harrison County has saved $350,000 a year since the program was started four years ago.
‘Before the alternative school, the judge had no alternative but to send kids to Muncie (to a detention center), boys school’ or other places, Ingle said, resulting in expenses of about $90,000 per child.
Funds to place students in facilities is paid by the Division of Family and Children, whose budget has been rising, Ingle said.
Harrison County began cracking down on students who were missing school for unexcused reasons last year by mailing out more than 400 letters last fall to parents whose children’s attendance would be closely monitored during the 2006-07 school year. The letters were signed by Shawn Donahue, deputy prosecutor for Harrison County, and Elizabeth Day, the chief juvenile probation officer.
The letter stated that it was the county’s goal to encourage parents and students to comply with all state statutes requiring attendance so students would receive the education they deserve and need to lead a successful life.
‘Truancy can put a student out of school after so many absences,’ Heazlitt said.
The alternative school keeps them in school.
‘It keeps them on track for earning their high school diploma or GED,’ Heazlitt said.
Others presenting at the San Diego conference besides Heazlitt were Circuit Judge H. Lloyd (Tad) Whitis, who gave a history of the program; Day, who talked about the probation aspect; and Doug Dodge, assistant principal at North Harrison High School and president of the alternative school board of directors. Also making the trip to California were Harrison County Prosecutor Dennis Byrd, Donahue and Melanie Kerr from the juvenile probation department.
‘It was a huge success,’ said Dodge, adding that at least 100 packets of information were picked up by attendees.
Dodge said he believes Harrison County ‘is way ahead of other places’ in combating truancy.
‘Students are able to keep up with their class work,’ he said. ‘In the past, (suspended or expelled students) would be sitting at home, getting zeroes, not able to keep up and graduate with their class.’
Those students who are required to attend the alternative school because of expulsion must also do community service work.
Also, the alternative school offers students who have fallen behind in their course work the opportunity to ‘recover’ credits that can keep them on track to graduate with their class.
The alternative school isn’t just for students who have been truant, suspended or expelled. Students who may require extra help in certain subjects can receive assistance there.
‘It’s just one more safety net for kids,’ Dodge said.
Heazlitt credits Whitis with getting the alternative school off the ground in Harrison County.
The Harrison County Alternative Education Center is expanding its board from five members to 12 to 15, with the three school corporations’ board of trustees each appointing a representative who can report back to them about the alternative school’s progress.
Heazlitt and alternative school members presented a program to Lanesville and North Harrison Community School corporations, and will present it to South Harrison at its regular school board meeting on April 3.
‘The conference really put Corydon, Ind., Harrison County, on the map,’ Heazlitt said.