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Sis boom bah! Oak Harbor gets H.C.H.S.

The city ushered in its third high school Monday night, when the Oak Harbor School board made a unanimous vote.

HomeConnection, the home-based learning program that combines public schools with home-schoolers, was approved as an official high school with the authority to issue diplomas.

It joins Oak Harbor High School and the alternative high school, Midway.

Though the title is new, HomeConnection has been moving into the high school realm for many years, Principal Randy Mouw said.

Four years ago, they began to enroll students in grades 9 to 12. However, teens could only graduate from the district through Oak Harbor High School or Skagit Valley College, if they completed their associate’s degree by the end of their senior year.

For many students, finding the time to complete the graduation requirements at the high school while being enrolled across town at HomeConnection was problematic, said Lance Gibbon, assistant superintendent.

“It can actually be a barrier for graduation,” he told the school board.

For one thing, students must finish a High School and Beyond plan to graduate. But the activities for the program are managed during the Oak Harbor High School advisory period; a class HomeConnection students don’t often participate in.

HomeConnection can now manage this requirement on-site.

“It will make things a lot smoother and more convenient for them,” Gibbon said.

Many students also feel their identity is with HomeConnection, rather than Oak Harbor High School. Some students take very few classes there.

“There are also students who desire a more intimate graduation ceremony,” Gibbon said.

The shift to a high school will also mean that HomeConnection is accountable for graduation rates under adequate yearly progress, a part of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Every year, the U.S. Department of Education tracks standardized test scores and graduation rates to determine if a school is meeting its goal of bringing 100 percent of their students to academic proficiency by 2014.

Now that HomeConnection is no longer combined with Oak Harbor High School’s rates, a concern is that one or two students could drastically change the numbers, Gibbon said. HomeConnection has a smaller number of graduates.

However, the school does not receive federal funding for low-income students, so there are no consequences for low rates, he added.

Schools that receive the federal funds can be penalized for not meeting yearly progress, including steps to invite parents to move children to schools that did meet testing targets.

Gibbon said the option to graduate from HomeConnection will kick in this spring, but it may take some time for staff to build interest. Many of the juniors and seniors are already working to graduate through the college or Oak Harbor High School.

“A likely target audience are the freshmen and sophomores,” he said.

Mouw said there are no plans at this point to officially change the name of the school to “HomeConnection High School,” or some other title, but that may come later.

Students receiving a HomeConnection diploma would have to satisfy all the requirements of the Oak Harbor School district, including credits, creating a High School and Beyond plan and presenting a “culminating project.” Roughly 150 students attend the school each year, which brings about $5,000 per student in state funding, or half the amount for a part-time student.

“We consider HomeConnection a break- even proposition. It costs us the same as we get in revenue,” Schulte said.

Monday’s school board vote earned an applause from supporters in the audience. A graduation committee from HomeConnection had asked for the change. No one spoke in opposition.

In another agenda item, there was discussion for a plan to move HomeConnection to the former Clover Valley Elementary school, which is currently serving Oak Harbor High School students during the main campus renovation. The official vote will be held at a future date.

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