Leaders of particularly effective alternative schools attend to forming partnerships with external institutions, like community colleges, Regional Occupational Programs, or local employers, which provide students with post-secondary pathways to academic growth and self-sufficiency. Often they are the product of personal networks; other times they reflect the vision and commitment of administrators to alternative education’s vulnerable student population. Where we found strong continuation programs, we usually also found deliberate, well-designed partnerships with local community colleges. Teachers and counselors in continuation schools worked with area community colleges to develop programs of study, opportunities for their students to visit the campus and sit in on classes; advisors from community colleges visited the continuation high school to tell students about the program, explain opportunities for financial aid and admissions procedures. Several continuation school administrators actively cultivated relationships with local businesses to provide jobs for students as well as opportunities for credit-carrying internships. Others developed relationships with a number of community agencies that provide youth services and multiple opportunities for community service. Several continuation schools rely on relationships with county mental health agencies or community-based mental health programs to provide drug and alcohol treatment, and partnerships with Probation to offer informational talks to students and collaborate on student placements. These partnerships were of a distinctly local flavor, differed in form and intensity, and always added critical resources to support teachers and their students. Schools lacking these partnerships and connections were, by comparison, at a significant disadvantage in their efforts to meet students’ needs. Other Practices Associated with Student Achievement in More Effective Continuation Schools
Positive beliefs about students are important enabling factors, but they are not self-executing. Where we found exemplary outcomes in CAHSEE pass rates, attendance, accelerated credit accumulation or other measures, we also found school leaders16 who were successful in 16 Critical leaders were often, but not exclusively, the school principal. In some cases, teachers cite the importance of leadership from a counselor or a teacher-colleague as imposing order on the school placement and intake process so that teachers would have a stable environment in which to manage their work with students, effective in applying more rigorous standards to themselves and their faculties than those imposed by the state or district, and intentional in using student performance data to guide change.
The foundational importance of an orderly student identification and placement process. Principals and staff in many continuation schools reported that student placement is not overseen by their school but rather is governed by the needs or imperatives of sending schools or district administrators. Yet, teachers almost always cited the importance of being able to plan for good instruction. This implied that continuation schools need the ability to collaborate with sending schools to implement a rational system for identifying, placing, and carefully managing student intake. Establishing higher expectations for continuation students and their teachers; taking concrete steps to improve and tailor instruction to student needs. Staff at schools with strong student attendance, CAHSEE pass or graduation rates, reported that their principals communicated a clear vision of what success looked like in classrooms, as well as clear expectations that everyone would move purposefully to achieve that vision. Principals often cited the advent of the CAHSEE high school graduation requirement as a standard-setting event that focused not just students, but staff as well on a concrete goal for all students. Teachers in the more impressive schools sought to balance individualized coaching and tutoring with whole-class instruction that promoted group problem-solving and developed better interpersonal communication among students.