Alternative school considers charter option

Morrison Secondary School would become the district's second charter school

DALLAS -- Morrison Secondary School, Dallas's alternative high school program, may become the district's second charter school.

Morrison received a $50,000 planning grant last week to determine whether becoming a charter school would help the program.

"This grant gives us a year to look at the proposal and see how we can better serve the students," Morrison Principal Don Wildfang said.

The school board approved the planning grant May 13.

Approving the grant does not mean the board has guaranteed approval of a charter school, board member John Tawney said.

Morrison staff members say the charter school program would fit well with Morrison's goal of teaching teens who don't do well in a traditional classroom.

"One of the major purposes of charter schools is to help entities explore different options of teaching," Wildfang said.

Right now the program works much like a charter school, Wildfang pointed out at the May 13 school board meeting. There is an application process for students.

The classes aren't structured in the same way as traditional high schools. Morrison doesn't just teach academics -- it tries to teach life skills.

Students testified at the school board meeting about the programs they're involved in, mentoring younger children and learning how to be peer mediators.

Teacher Melody Slothower spoke about the need to create a teen parent program. All Morrison's programs are necessary to help troubled teens transition to productive adults, they said.

In fact, the need for Morrison's programs is greater than they can currently meet.

"Over the past four years the scope of need with the at-risk student population has exceeded our ability and that of the district to fund," the grant proposal reads.

Forty students are on a waiting list for Morrison.

Wildfang wants to expand the program and hire more staff members. But he can't do that with just the Dallas School District's resources.

In fact, next year Wildfang will likely have to take on teaching duties as well as his job as principal. Wildfang thinks that as a charter school, Morrison will be better able to get the funding it needs.

"My hope is that we can work with different service agencies and grant institutions to focus their dollars in Dallas," he said.

Right now, the project is still in the planning phase, and there's no guarantee it will become a charter school. So what's the next step?

"We're going to spend the next year exploring," Wildfang said.

He and teacher Ken Guffey, along with superintendent Dave Novotney and business manager Kathy Hammer, will travel to a national charter school conference in June to learn more about the possibilities.

Some of the $50,000 grant money will help pay Morrison teachers to work extra hours on charter school planning.

Though Wildfang is still developing a timeline for the project, perhaps a year from now Morrison will be ready to change from a district-operated school to a charter school.


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