Spokane Public Schools offers more than its traditional schools to district high schoolers

click to enlarge Spokane Public Schools offers more than its traditional schools to district high schoolers
Chiana McInelly photo
On Track Academy is one special option for keeping Spokane Public Schools students engaged.

While some students thrive with six periods, a rotating host of teachers and standard textbook curricula, others need a different approach. Thankfully, they don't need to leave Spokane Public Schools to find it.

The school district offers what are known as "option" schools for students who would benefit from a different approach to their learning. For high school students, there's the Community School, Lisa Mattson On Track Academy (named for the school's principal) and Pratt Academy. There's also a newly created Open Doors program — a virtual GED classroom aimed at those aged 16-24 who are not expected to graduate. There are various programs and alternatives for middle and elementary school students as well.

Chris Burke, assistant principal at On Track Academy, says the school used to be primarily focused on students who are falling behind and at risk of not graduating. It still serves those students, but it's also expanded to accommodate students who are simply looking at a more individualized approach to learning.

Instead of six periods, students at On Track Academy have a block period, often taught by two instructors who co-teach the students. This allows students to build a more personal connection with teachers, who can get to know the students and tailor instruction to their individual needs.

"One of the big things students say they like is that they're not shuffling between six different classes a day," Burke says.

On Track Academy, which accepts students in grades 10 through 12, offers continuous enrollment. Students will often start the school year at a traditional neighborhood school and realize part way through that they need a different approach. On Track Academy usually starts the school year with around 300 students and ends with closer to 500.

Burke says he'll often get calls from students or parents who are considering transferring to an option school, but are on the fence about whether or not they should make the switch or just stick it out for the rest of the year.

Burke says his first piece of advice is for them to get in touch with the school counselor and see what options might be available at their current school. If they think transferring is the best option, the counselor can help them fill out an online application on the school website. Administrators will look at the student's transcript and get in touch to talk with them about whether On Track Academy is the right fit.

Burke notes that over the past five years, he's noticed parents becoming more open to the idea of alternative education. There used to be a perception that the option schools were just for kids who are in trouble, but that's quickly changing. On Track Academy moved into a new building last year, which Burke says allowed them to add more elective programs and more hands-on project-based classes. There's a program called Pathway that offers students experience in things like engineering, digital media and art.

Burke's biggest piece of advice for struggling students: "Don't be afraid to ask." ♦

Visit spokaneschools.org/domain/173 for more info

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About The Author

Nate Sanford

Nate Sanford is a staff writer for the Inlander covering a variety of news topics. He joined the paper in 2022 after graduating from Western Washington University. You can reach him at 509.325.0634 ext. 282 or nates@inlander.com