Alternative high schools are sometimes perceived as dumping grounds for problem students, but the Blaine County School District takes a different view of kids who for one reason or another aren’t making the grade in the mainstream educational system.
“It’s not a dumping ground for whatever,” said Mike Glenn, principal at Silver Creek High School, the district’s alternative school for students who are struggling with their education. “This is not that kind of place. This is a chance for kids to come and get whatever they need.
“I’m really passionate about this. I’m their biggest cheerleader. I’ll fight for them, but they have to produce.”
Now in its fourth year, Silver Creek High School has become the shining star in the School District, scoring a perfect 100 points this year in the new Idaho State Department of Education’s “star” rating system and receiving the maximum five stars. It was the only district school to receive five stars, with scores in the other seven schools ranging from two to four.
All 20 of Silver Creek’s seniors graduated in 2012 and all 20 applied to a college to further their education. Silver Creek’s 10th-graders scored 100 percent proficient or advanced earlier this year in Idaho Standards Achievement Tests for reading and math.
Jerry Hutchins, the district’s director of technology, testing and database management, said the main reason Silver Creek received five stars is the emphasis on students’ taking dual credit “advanced placement” college courses while still enrolled in high school.
“I think for years there has been a perception that kids come here for low academic performance, and that’s not true,” Hutchins said.
Teacher Jill Bailey said one student graduated from Silver Creek earlier this year with 14 college credits already earned.
“We’re really excited about our five stars,” Bailey said.
Silver Creek High School has its origins in Silver Creek Alternative School, founded in the district in 1993 by former school Director Barge Levy. When Levy retired in 2009, the school was renamed and moved from its location on Third Street in Hailey to the District Support Services facility at the Community Campus near Wood River High School. The close proximity allows Silver Creek High School students to take elective classes at Wood River.
Following Levy’s retirement, Lynn Seifert took over as principal, and the school population was more than doubled from its norm of about 20 students to more than 40. As of last week, enrollment at Silver Creek High School was 48 students.
Glenn was appointed principal this summer after Seifert left the School District to become principal at Central High School in Pueblo, Colo.
Glenn, a former Wood River High School football coach who also taught U.S. and world history and global perspectives, expressed humility when asked about the success of Silver Creek.
“I didn’t have anything to do with this,” he said. “I inherited this. My challenge now is to maintain a five-star rating. But I don’t think that supersedes the effort we have with educating these students.
“I love being here, and I say that to everybody. And after 28 years in the classroom, this is a blessing.”
Glenn said a number of reasons can lead to a student’s being placed at Silver Creek. Some are getting behind on their credits or suffering from a low GPA. Others have substance abuse problems, have been kicked out of their homes or have limited proficiency in English. Truancy, pregnancy, family problems or court order can also lead to placement at Silver Creek.
Students are not automatically accepted for enrollment. Glenn said Wood River and Silver Creek high school officials administrator a “rigorous intake process” before a student is moved from Wood River to Silver Creek.
Once at Silver Creek, Glenn said, the smaller number of students allows teachers to give more attention to individual student needs. Since students typically have another problem in life outside the school environment, the Silver Creek staff tries to make the school a safe haven where students can concentrate on their studies.
“In an insane world, here’s a little bit of sanity where kids can feel safe and secure,” he said. “Here’s a chance for a better environment where they have a chance to prosper. Here we are smaller. We can get our arms around it and we can mother hen these kids. There’s a lot of love here and they’re getting a lot of individual attention.”
Glenn said the school does not give homework—all work is done there.
“We’re trying to minimize the stress academically. When they come here there’s a cool, calmer environment and they don’t have to take stress home. One of the first things I do when I get visitors is take them on a tour. You go to a classroom and in every one you’ll see students are working. I love coming here—it’s a good vibe.”
Bailey and fellow teacher C. Bing Parkinson described Silver Creek High School as a “family,” where students and teachers intermingle in comfortable relationships not as easy to attain in the mainstream educational system.
“You talk about our graduation rate and it’s phenomenal,” Parkinson said. “But every once in a while we lose one, and that hurts.”
Terry Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org