Alternative High School in Nederland
By Michael Robinson
Chinook West, an alternative high school in Nederland, has been granted a five year accreditation by North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI), an accreditation division of AdvancED. Chinook West is the only contract school in Boulder Valley School District and is administered by TEENS, Inc., a non-profit youth serving agency.
From the external review findings on February 5 and 6, 2013, the review team reported that they have “unanimously endorsed” the five year accreditation for the school.
With this achievement, the TEENS, Inc. staff and community could not be more pleased. “Accreditation demonstrates to our students, parents and community that we are focused on raising student achievement, providing an enriching learning environment, and maintaining an efficient and effective operation staffed by highly qualified educators,” said Stephen LeFaiver, the Executive Director of TEENS, Inc. and Principal of Chinook West.
The staff at TEENS, Inc. has worked hard to garner this achievement. “Essentially, (the process) helped us sustain what we do well and address what we need to improve on,” added LeFaiver. The accreditation agency found little that the school needed to improve on, claiming in their report, “The team bids appreciation to the staff… for their dedication in providing students at-risk of not graduating from high school another opportunity with clear boundaries and expectations in a stable and caring environment.”
Among the findings from the accreditation process, the following were listed as powerful practices:
- The established culture galvanizes ownership and dedication to the purpose and practice. The schools purpose is entrenched in the culture…Using restorative justice rather than suspension or expulsion focuses on the life skills taught at the school. Students and Parents reported that “they are listened to and the philosophy is to respect each other and listen to each person’s perspective.”
- Communication with stakeholders. Stakeholders revealed widespread involvement and ownership in the success of the school and their students.
- Students are engaged through instructional strategies that ensure achievement of learning expectations. Instructional strategies are highly personalized to reflect individual learning needs of each student. Students stated, “courses are taught with real life lessons and teachers check to see if we really know and understand what we learned.”
- The Chinook West Advising Program. Students are surrounded with caring and dedicated staff assisting them with decision making, behavior changes (socially and academically), and time management.
Dr. Mark Elgart, President/CEO of AdvancED, stated, “Accreditation is a rigorous process that focuses the entire school on the primary goal of creating lifelong learners. Chinook West is to be commended for engaging in this process and demonstrating a commitment to continuous improvement.”
The staff at TEENS, Inc., however, will not sit back and be complacent after this positive news about Chinook West. “We will offer the same programs and work on continuous improvement, and the community can continue to look to us to fulfill the needs of the youth we serve,” asserted Alisa Musser, Assistant Director.
The school will keep striving for improvement, and recognizes that at the end of the day, they continually want to be better than the previous day. “We will not lose sight of the fact that we count the smiles leaving the school, not the credits,” added Bill Pollock, Academic Director.
All in all, this is a positive step for the school, and the Nederland community as well. LeFaiver recognizes that this is a joint effort. “Overall, a lot of people are and were involved. The school is a truly unique and successful learning environment because a lot of layers of people have been involved,” he added.