Best Practice Guidelines for Program Implementation
High quality alternative education occurs in a context of respectful, supportive, reciprocal relationships among the district leadership (superintendents and local boards of education); the alternative school administration and staff; and students and their families. Alternative education settings are organized around well-developed and articulated indicators of student success1 characterized by small individualized learning environments. These indicators include a well-articulated program philosophy; a commitment to collaboration particularly among educators, students, and their families; and strong programmatic features grounded in high academic and behavioral standards to support the overall growth and development of students. In this section, guidelines to support the implementation of high quality programming in alternative settings will be described in the following areas: program philosophy; approaches to the engagement of students and their parents/guardians/families; roles of administrators and staff; services delivery in specific areas to include assessment, curriculum and instruction, community-based social services; and facilities.
There are two core philosophical foundations found in high quality alternative education settings:
- alternative education is a student focused perspective based on a respect for who students are and the belief that all students can learn given the right environment; and
- participation in an alternative setting is an informed choice made by students and their families.
The philosophy of alternative education utilizes a whole student approach. Such an approach would promote programming to address the personal, social, emotional, intellectual, work skills, safety, and security needs of all students in addition to academic achievement. Given the nontraditional needs of the student body, programming is individualized. The development of the student’s plan for learning is a collaborative venture among students, their families, and educators with the individual needs and strengths of each student both recognized and embraced. This approach encourages students to partner with educators and to understand the value of their educational program while accepting responsibility for their academic, social and emotional growth.
Enrollment in an alternative setting is not a punishment but a learning opportunity. One of the main program goals is centered on creating a safe school climate where effective teaching and learning takes place and exclusionary practices towards discipline are minimized. There is a positive, individualized approach to discipline and all members of the community feel safe, staff and students alike.
A philosophy of high expectations is evident through mission and vision statements that are documented and clearly visible to all members of the school/program community. These expectations are consistent with district goals and state standards. The school/program embraces the concept that all students are capable and can be successful. It is with student success in mind that the program design is developed, implemented and refined. This will involve the use of researched/evidenced based practice including the value of parents/guardians and families.
Parents/Guardians and Families
As a part of the overall philosophy of the alternative education setting, family involvement is welcomed and actively supported. Families are recognized as equal partners and involved in all decision-making processes for their child’s learning and personal success. In order to be equal partners, parents/guardians must understand their rights as it relates to the following:
- consent to or decline services;
- procedures to file grievances; and
- timely and effective communication in a format and language that the families can understand.
All education settings must create a climate that supports receiving input from families. Therefore, structures for bi-directional communication must be developed to share information about students’ progress at home and at school. Regular opportunities for parents/guardians and families to support students is facilitated by creating access to parent leadership and parent education training regarding how to support their child to achieve maximum learning and personal success. Similarly, all staff needs to demonstrate family engagement practices from a family-centered approach and continually participate in ongoing training related to research-based, culturally relevant, family engagement strategies for working with parents/guardians from diverse backgrounds as equal partners in supporting student success.
Administrators in alternative settings must meet all local and state certification requirements. In collaboration with staff, they are responsible for the alternative school/program and actively plan and participate in establishing a quality learning experience for students. As instructional leaders their duty is twofold. First, they need to ensure that the students in their care receive a high quality, efficacious, educational experience. Secondly, they are responsible for representing that school/program within the larger school/district and to ensure that their program is compliant with all related federal and state laws and regulations.
School district leaders support administration in a respectful manner that is consistent with all educational programs in the district. Administrators in the alternative education setting collaborate with district leadership, staff, and community members to develop relationships that reflect ownership and support for the alternative education setting. Leadership is responsible to develop and support reasonable expectations by staff and students. The rules are positively stated such that they are clearly understood by staff, students, and parents/guardians. They need to be applied consistently to guide and teach appropriate student behavior, monitor progress, and manage the learning experience. Programs are prepared to support students for whom the monitoring system indicates more intensive supports are required (e.g., services provided by external providers). Please see section on Community/Social Services below.
District administration is accountable to students, their families and the community for the quality of education that students in their jurisdiction receive. Therefore, LEA Boards of Education are responsible for the following:
- Development of policies to appeal decisions regarding placement or programming including levels of appeal.
- Development of a policy regarding the number of days for transition planning to limit the length of time that the student is without educational services.
- Develop a policy that outlines the relationship between the administration of the alternative education setting and the administration of the traditional education setting.
- Resources to support the alternative education setting that are equitably allocated and that programming is of high quality.
- A budget for the alternative setting that allows for the implementation of all standards required to comply with state/federal guidelines and district practices.
- Administrators of the alternative education setting are held accountable for the school/programs outcomes. Therefore, the LEA board of education will require the submission of performance reports at least annually to respective local boards of education.
Teaching within the alternative school/program is a choice by all staff. Therefore, the process for the recruitment of staff requires that candidates evidence the value of high expectations for themselves and their students. They are actively committed to building a trusting school environment and understand their position as role models for students. Their practices reflect a holistic perspective of care for students’ overall development (i.e., personal, social, emotional, intellectual, life success) and create a climate of safety/security. Emphasis on the process of learning is valued, embraced, and implemented as the means to creating the primary motivation to want to learn.
Teachers, administrators, counselors, and support staff meet local and state certification/licensure requirements. As such, staff is subject to an annual evaluation as governed by their district’s system and/or approved by CSDE for evaluation2. School and district administrators collaborate to ensure that the evaluation system is appropriate for the alternative education setting. As a part of their system for evaluation, each staff member participates in professional learning opportunities such as Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), for self-improvement as indicated by their student learning objectives. Supports to staff may address needs specific to the environment such as burnout, building family-school-community relationships, culturally relevant pedagogy, cultural competency and reflective practice. Small learning environments are needed to ensure that students receive individualized attention and staff is able to meet their goals for teaching. Teacher/student ratios are at most 1:123 based on total students served and total teachers available.
Students and their families are active members of the student support team involved in placement. Practices are designed to support student and family voice such that enrollment in the alternative setting is an informed choice by students and their families. It is important that administrators in conjunction with members of their staff provide an orientation to students and their parents/guardians prior to admission where expectations are explained, understood and agreed upon. Upon enrollment, students participate in the development and shaping of their personalized learning environment and activities of the school. This will encourage a sense of belonging and ownership of a culturally responsive learning experience. Students are able to take responsibility for their own learning, including attendance, work completion, and timelines for completion, with support from administration and staff.
A focus on student growth and development is at the center of the programming. Students are encouraged to advocate for their needs and be fully informed about the requirements for graduation and readiness for college or career. Therefore, students and their families need to be regularly informed of their progress and be able to continuously monitor their credits earned with regard to personal goals, completion and graduation. This occurs in the context of their personalized Student Success Plan4, as mandated by state law.
Educators select assessments for both formative and summative purposes such as to guide instruction, monitor student progress, design interventions in the context of a multi-tiered system of supports, and provide appropriate services to benefit the student. Staff, students, and parents/guardians must be able to clearly identify and articulate the purposes of assessment. Multiple measures are utilized to guide student learning that are aligned with districtwide measures to allow progress reporting within the community. Assessments also include standardized measures to identify student overall achievement as well as student progress as deemed appropriate by CSDE.
Curriculum and Instruction
All students receive instruction based on a curriculum aligned to the CT Core State Standards5 (CCSS) unless modified as indicated by the goals and objectives of an IEP, in particular curricula areas. Implementation of the CCSS allows students and families to be confident that their curriculum prepares them for life, career, and future training in higher levels of education. Approaches, such as the Mastery Based Learning frameworks, are encouraged due the emphasis on the following:
- rigorous college and career learning competencies;
- high quality instruction;
- curriculum based on state content standards; and
- learning based on authentic experiences and application of critical knowledge.
Instructional practices are culturally relevant to promote understanding and respect for who students are including their perspective and interests. These practices are consistent with an inclusive learning environment to accommodate different learning styles and abilities in large and small flexible groupings. The promotion of 21st century skills such as, but not limited to, abstract thinking, problem-solving and critical thinking, collaboration and use of technology is evident throughout the curriculum. Technology may be used as a part of the curriculum delivery process that allows for immediate feedback systems, monitoring of individual progress and needs, and adjustments to personal choice, needs, and learning capacity. Funding allocations by districts are documented and must ensure that sufficient and relevant material resources are available to allow for the accomplishment of these practices and standards of learning.
With the goal of college and career readiness in mind, all students are provided with supports to transition into postsecondary training and employment. Students actively explore career options and complete personal assessments to promote career development. Consistent with family and community engagement practices, partnerships with the private and public sectors are fostered to support the learning community. Opportunities to provide internships, apprenticeships, career exploration, service learning opportunities, and paid work experiences are developed and made available to students in order to help them enter the workforce. Students may want to explore and participate in available college courses at the community college or 4-year college level.
Programming is designed to meet the needs of the whole childto prepare the student to be a productive member of school and larger community. The development of students in the areas related to personal, social, emotional, behavioral, career and other essential learnings, which are not addressed by the CCSS are embedded in the program delivery and/or evidenced in specific course content. Instructional practices include cooperative learning, team building, and other group activities, which are practiced to exercise the development of personal/social behaviors important to the success of the community. Opportunities for mentorship will be considered.
The staff may need to identify and give consideration to students’ specific personal/social and other life skills in developing personalized planning, instructional delivery, and support services. Students have access to participate in extracurricular activities, including sports and other team and/or individual activities. There are professional learning opportunities for staff to be able to address the needs of students and/or families in crisis and provide accommodations via the development and implementation of personal plans to assure success in the alternative learning environment.
All staff, students, and families will consider cultural differences as critical to understanding personal needs. Accommodations for cultural differences are made to allow for personal success within the learning alternative/s.
In an effort to support the needs of the whole child, resources for support service agencies and relevant community organizations are collected and coordinated to provide multiple support systems for both student and family including opportunities for mentorship and service learning. The administration and staff will work with local and state agencies and build relationships with community organizations. Based on the resources available through these relationships, a reasonable effort to accommodate the delivery of community-based support services to students and families will be made as needed based on personalized planning. Additionally, there are regular opportunities for students and their families to receive information and personal assistance to ensure access to relevant community-based support services. Staff receives professional learning opportunities that are related to effectively collaborating with community-based support services and how to connect students and families with such support services. The alternative school/program may prioritize these areas for professional learning over larger school and district professional learning as necessary.
Facilities and Resources
Administration will ensure that the physical facilities adequately accommodate the needs of staff and students to accomplish the established goals with high quality. These will be consistent with all local, state, and federal laws and regulations regarding physical plant. This includes the provision of adequate space to accommodate the following:
- group activities without interfering with individualized learning;
- technology as a resource to students and educators; and
- "privacy areas" for counseling and the delivery of community-based support services.