By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
High school students attending the F.I. Denning Center of Technology and Careers to make up lost credits will be rejoining students at Cleveland High School next year. The Cleveland Board …
High school students attending the F.I. Denning Center of Technology and Careers to make up lost credits will be rejoining students at Cleveland High School next year.
The Cleveland Board of Education made the decision Monday, when it approved a plan developed by the Denning Center's Innovation Committee.
The center is an alternative school which consists of two main populations of students who, for whatever reason, have been unable to succeed in a regular school. Some are there for behavioral reasons; others have simply fallen behind in credits.
The latter group of students is being targeted with this new plan. Kelly Kiser, supervisor of federal projects & staff development, told the board the Denning Center “will close for credit recovery” at the end of this school year with this plan.
"There is lots of fleshing out and lots of planning to be done,” Kiser said. “However, we are excited to see what this will do for the students. “
All the students currently attending the Denning Center for credit recovery will be transferred to Cleveland High School, where they will become part of a dedicated “learning community.”
These students will receive specialized instruction dedicated to credit recovery, in classes housed at Cleveland High. Because of their location, they will also get to take part in some of the career and technical education courses, clubs and other offerings available there.
Dr. Russell Dyer, director of Cleveland City Schools, said he has had the chance to talk with Denning Center students about this change. What he heard was that they want the chance to have a more traditional high school experience as they work to overcome their challenges.
“A lot of thought has gone into where we are with this. … Ultimately, we hope this will be better for our students,” Dyer said.
He mentioned one Denning Center student who said he really wished he could take automotive technology classes like the ones offered at Cleveland High. Dyer said this move will not only help students have a more traditional high school experience, but also give them more opportunities to develop career skills.
Dyer added this plan is not an indictment on the teachers who have been educating students at the Denning Center. He called them “excellent” and said they really seem to care about their students’ success.
The director referenced the Tennessee Valley Early College program, which offers Cleveland High students the chance to concurrently earn associate’s degrees through Cleveland State Community College, as an example of what the Denning Center group will look like. Students will still be part of Cleveland High, while engaging in their own unique learning experiences.
“It really just gives them another chance to find success in a smaller learning environment,” said Dyer.
The Denning Center itself will remain open, with the focus being on students who have faced challenges with behavioral issues. Teachers focusing on credit recovery will be transferred to other schools, some of them likely moving to Cleveland High with their students.
These changes will also coincide with the closing of the city school system’s STAR Center off North Lee Highway when the building’s lease ends next summer. Staff there will be moved to other locations. Dyer said the school system is looking at moving some of its operations to a “more centralized” office in downtown Cleveland.
School board members praised the work of the F.I. Denning Center Innovation Committee and said they believe this will help boost students’ morale and help them become more engaged in their learning.
“We’re trying to create a program that will be more wholly effective,” board member Tom Cloud said.
Board member Peggy Pesterfield said she likes that the students transferring to Cleveland High will have the chance to “feel like they are part of something larger."
Board member Steve Morgan said he also liked the plan, and it is another way to support students who need extra help to complete their high school educations.
“I do not think we failed at the Denning Center,” Morgan said. “We are just trying something new.”
Board Chair Dawn Robinson said she agreed. She pointed out it is the board’s job to take whichever actions will be best for students, even if it means admitting a previous plan was not the best one.
The board voted unanimously to approve the committee’s recommendations. In the coming months, committee members will focus on preparing for the changes taking effect at the start of the 2018-19 school year.
“There’s going to be a lot of work,” Dyer said. “But we need to continue listening to what students want. We’ve got to get this right.”
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