Supporters and opponents of Astoria's new alternative high school spoke passionately Thursday evening about the roughly 30 high school students that will likely be studying at Capt. Robert Gray School this fall.
The Astoria School Board heard feedback from neighbors, teachers, parents and administrators, at a meeting scheduled only for that purpose. About 20 people attended.
Donna Dulcich, who lives across the street from Gray school, had attended the board meeting two weeks ago, and was one of the first people to voice concerns of any kind to school leaders.
"I'm still scared to death," Dulcich said Thursday. Chief among the neighbors' voiced concerns were the proposed night hours of operation, and the background of students coming in from outside the district to attend the school.
"We don't know these kids or know where they come from," Dulcich said.
Another neighbor, Shirley Croddy, said she was worried that ending school in the evening could bring late traffic and bright lights.
"Are we setting a precedent to allow activity after regular school hours?" Croddy questioned.
The plan the board considered would accommodate between 30 and 50 ninth- to 12th-grade students in the first few years between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. The nontraditional school would be open to students countywide who need day-to-day classes and instruction that existing schools can't offer. The building would still house the district's administration and Headstart programs, and could also hold a daycare that student parents could take advantage of.
Superintendent Craig Hoppes said any student attending the school would need to be motivated to get that education.
"These might be students who had attendance problems in the past, teen mothers or students that work during the day," he said. Other students who might use the school included those who might be overwhelmed by the regular high school experience or those needing an accelerated path to graduation.
Teacher Jeff Mabry defended the students who would use the school, and described them as "motivated to get an education." Mabry taught alternative education classes at Astoria High School for several years, and was surprised to hear so many concerns.
"The students people are concerned about are not the students who would be here. The ones that are dangerous are already out of the system," he said.
Gary Brouillet, service center administrator for the Northwest Regional Educational Service District, said he wasn't worried.
"From my experience setting up and running these programs, you really don't have problems with these kids. These are kids who want an education but for a whole host of reasons can't get it at a regular school," Brouillet said.
Parent Mara McDonald said at first she wasn't supportive of the idea, but when she learned it would be a way for her high school daughter to get back on track in school, her outlook changed.
"She's fallen behind very badly because of health issues. She's a good kid, she's had a job since she was 14. She's not a hoodlum," McDonald said.
After about 30 minutes of input, the board moved on to its regular scheduled work session, and discussed the plan. All five members said they supported the concept for the school, although Hoppes recommended any evening classes should be held at the high school. He also recommended that an advisory committee be formed to deal with any issues that arise.
Hoppes said students at the school will be supervised very closely, and any discipline problems would be dealt with urgently. But he did feel these students were not being given enough credit.
"I feel very strongly that these students are being improperly or disrespectfully labeled," Hoppes said. He reiterated that the students must demonstrate a daily desire to learn.
"If they're not motivated, they won't go to any school in the city. And if they want to come to school, they will behave themselves," he said sternly.
Board member Laura Snyder voiced her shock that opposition could be so fierce.
"I feel very strongly that pigeonholing these students does nobody any good. I am really sad about the hostile assumptions about the teens who would be attending this school," she said.
Other board members agreed with Snyder. "I'm bothered by the fear-mongering too. I absolutely agree that people learn differently, and that there is a real need for this alternative school," said Martin Dursse.