When Pete Tierney and Dan O’Brien founded Long View in 1994, their vision was to create a small, safe, rigorous learning community with a functional-family atmosphere for students who were not successful at other schools. The model allows for no more than 60 students at a time to ensure teacher interaction with every kid every day.
“I feel that it would be very detrimental to Long View as a school not to be on its own,” Matthew Hediger, a Long View High graduate, told the Jeffco Board of Education at its March 9 meeting. “I went to both schools. I was not successful at McClain. It was a larger group of students, more places to hide and easier for me to leave.”
At the March 9 board meeting, 16 other speakers, including former students, voiced their concerns over moving the school. They shared how they struggled in a traditional school setting and how if not for Long View, they would not have graduated or been successful in adult life.
Graduate Forrest J. Johnson told the board that by the age of 14, he had overdosed on drugs, failed his first year of high school and was clinically depressed. But at Long View, he found support and family.
“There’s a lot of people out there that can’t do conformed public education and those people need Long View,” alumna Corrina Blake told the board. “If you take it away, you’re taking away an opportunity to achieve in life.”
Tierney describes Long View students as students whose needs were not being met by their home school for variety of reasons: hyper activity, drugs, playing video games, tremendous anxiety or being withdrawn for example.
“There is no one definable description of Long View student,” he said. “But they all chose to be there. It’s one of the few schools where everybody there wants to be there.”
For A.J. Oehm, a 2014 graduate of Long View, the halls of Wheat Ridge High School were a place where he could roam in an anonymous fashion. He often hid away in the art department and didn’t attend his other classes, which put him at risk of not graduating.
“Once he started going to Long View, he accepted responsibility,” said his mother, Dayna Ashley-Oehm.
In a unique collaboration between Wheat Ridge and Long View, Oehm was able to attend art classes at Wheat Ridge since Long View did not offer the elective.
“I give a lot of credit to both schools,” Ashley-Oehm said. “I saw such growth and confidence and trajectory in his year at Long View.”
Oehm graduated from Long View with a $70,000 scholarship to Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. He is one of the 281 students to graduate from Long View over the years.
Jefferson County Public Schools has a plan to move Long View High School, a small alternative school, into the campus of another larger school for next school year. But parents, students and alumni say doing so would be the demise of the program. This was not a decision that the Board of Education voted on, but a decision made by Jeffco Public Schools staff.
The Long View community however, believes the board should be involved in this decision.
“Because it’s a school for at-risk kids, it has a smaller population and in many cases, the parents aren’t as involved,” said parent and advisory board member Dayna Ashley-Oehm. “I think that it’s floated under the public radar and because it was a smaller program and not a closure, there was the notion that this didn’t have to be a board decision. But I am encouraging the board to start to look at this issue. As an advocate for this funky school that was the key to my son’s success, I’m not going to go quietly.”
Long View High School — the smallest comprehensive public school in the metro area serving students in grades 10-12 in Jeffco — has four full-time teachers and no more than 60 students a year. As of Feb. 15, enrollment for this year was 47 students.
In its 23rd year of operation, it is housed in a 50-year-old temporary structure on the hill of Jefferson County Public Schools’Life Long Learning Center campus in Lakewood.
“Almost 24 years ago, we thought about the fact that there were a lot of kids who weren’t having their needs met by traditional schools,” said Pete Tierney, co-founder of Long View High School. “Some kids need more, and a sense of community and family — they were getting lost and dropping out.”
So, with support from the school board at the time, Long View High School was formed.
But the fate of the small school, which students affectionately refer to as “the shack on the hill” — or “home” — is now up in the air.
District staff has recommended moving the school into the larger campus at McClain High School, which is also located on the Life Long Learning Campus. The move would save the district about $30,000 a year.
Reasons for the move cited by the district include poor facilities, low student enrollment and a high operations cost of $5.31 per square foot, which is higher than two of the five schools proposed for closure earlier this year.
District staff proposes relocating the school to the McLain building,and demolishing the existing temporary buildings that Long View is currently operating out of.
McLain, which can house up to 800 students, is at 62 percent capacity in 2016-17 with a student enrollment of 494. The 50 additional students from Long View would still keep student population there small, the district said.
“We thought this was a done deal, but now it doesn’t look like it,” said Diana Wilson chief communications officer for Jeffco Public Schools, after the decision was challenged by the Long View community. “I know they are happy there, but our facility people don’t feel that we should be housing students there.”
Long View was originally recommended for closure at the same time as Martensen Elementary and Zerger Elementary in 2010. In the spring of 2016, Long View was again named for closure in the original rollout of the facilities master plan. Those closures did not happen and the board launched a mill and bond campaign.
But in the wake of the failure of that November 2016 bond and mill package, the district is once again looking at budget cuts.
“In all honesty, I don’t think we would be having this discussion if the mill and bond was passed,” Wilson said.
For the people that are making this decision to move Long View instead of closing it, Wilson said, “it felt like a victory.”
But for those connected to the program, the move feels like a closure.
“I think our students would say if they wanted to go to McClain, they would go there,” said Tierney, who retired last year after 22 years at Long View. “To have us inside McClain is counter-productive.”
While Tierney reports a consistent graduation rate of 95 percent, the school district reports only a 37 percent graduation rate for 2016.
“I know people feel this program is successful and helpful, but the data doesn’t support that,” said Wilson. “We’re spending a lot of money per student to run this program and the results of it are negligible at best.”
Tierney says the results are skewed because to be considered a graduate by the state, schooling needs to be completed in four years. Seventy-five percent of Long Views students don’t graduate in four years, Tierney said, because they come to the school behind in credits.
“We take the long view of students,” Tierney said. “It’s not about getting in and out and getting credits as fast as you can. Our objective is to get you ready on all levels for whatever is next in your life. That takes time.”
Tierney stressed that the school is not a credit recovery school. If a student comes to the school a year behind, it will take them an extra year to graduate.
In 2015, Long View was chosen as a School of Opportunity by the National Education Policy Center. The center describes the recognized schools to “illustrate practices designed to close gaps in opportunity between students who come from advantaged and disadvantaged circumstances. They model what true reform is all about. Each and every one keeps the welfare of students at the center of their reforms.”
Seven schools in Colorado were chosen.
Wilson said right now, there are no plans for the board of education to weigh in on this matter.
Tierney said he hopes the Jeffco Public Schools will think about its mission statement to provide quality education to all children.
“If all means all, then our kids are part of that, and what they need is a small school that’s a separate facility,” Tierney said. “It’s a model that I think works, but I think it only works as a separate facility. I think moving it would be the demise of it. It’s not just the resistance to change. What we’re resistant to is hurting students who need a certain type of learning environment.”
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