Students, parents and families filled the former library of Capt. Robert Gray School Monday night, beginning the first school year at Astoria School District's new alternative high school.

About 25 students will begin classes today, putting a close on months of planning leading up to the event.

"It's really exciting to be here. We've worked long and hard to put this together," said Craig Hoppes, Astoria School District superintendent.

He explained that the district does a wonderful job of serving most kids, but there is a small group of kids whose needs don't fit the norm.

"Now we've opened the door for those kids," he said.

The group of about 60 people gathered for the informal open house - including neighbors, school board members and interested community members - listening to a presentation from Larry Lockett, the school's administrator, and meeting the staff, which includes two alternative education teachers.

Classes in traditional subjects will be offered, and an online tool called OdysseyWare will be used, allowing students to gain access to their course work anywhere they can get the Internet, Lockett said.

The curriculum also includes parenting classes for pregnant and parenting teens, a credit recovery program and a program to bridge students from school to the workforce and community college. The school recently also became home to Astoria Community Childcare Center and the Port of Play, the new venture that combined the Astoria Children's Museum and Indoor Play Park.

Mara McDonald attended the event with her daughter Morgyn McDonald, who will begin at the alternative school today.

McDonald hopes her daughter will get what she really needs at the school - a chance for a fresh start.

"She didn't get a fair shake. When she started falling behind, I felt like she was given up on," she said. With one-on-one tutoring, however, her daughter excelled, she added. MacDonald thinks the new school will offer more of that type of instruction.

"We're here to help you in any capacity we can," said Ralph Steinback, the new teacher who will be covering reading and writing skills with students. "Even if that means bringing someone in - we're very persistent in what we do."

David Gasser, the other alternative education teacher, also introduced himself to the students and their families.

"I read every one of your essays, and I truly believe I know what you need, I know what you want to be successful," he said.

Every student completed a one-page autobiography, an essay about their school experiences and a statement about their career aspirations after high school. Students from Clatsop County are eligible to attend the school, and must work with home districts to determine their eligibility.

David Ziak, 17, of Knappa, attended the open house with fellow student Robert Patterson, and both are looking forward to attending the alternative school.

"I am really excited. It's a really good chance to get my education," said Ziak, a senior. At traditional high school, he often felt rushed, and now he'll be able to set the speed.

"I feel I can go at my own pace," he said.

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