Old town hall could become alternative academy

District researching concepts to help bright students not fitting into common mold
Lee Pulaski
City Editor

SHAWANO — The Shawano School District has plans to restore the former Wescott Town Hall to an institute of learning, if plans discussed at the executive committee meeting on Feb. 12 move forward.

The district is considering making the old schoolhouse, which is finally in the district’s possession after sorting through paperwork, into an alternative academy for grades 6-12. Superintendent Randi Anderson said that district officials are still doing research into the issue, but the idea is to provide a place for those who are exceptionally gifted to explore issues that are not typically introduced in a traditional classroom setting.

“This is just starting to scratch the surface,” Anderson said. “We are looking at what kind of alternative programming can we put into place to serve that underserved population.”

The town of Wescott returned ownership of the old town hall to the district in July after leasing it for $1 over 50 years ago with the stipulation that it needed to be used for town purposes. Wescott stopped using it as a town hall around 2006 but still maintained it and occasionally rented it out for community use. Wescott decided last year to return the building to the district’s care, which took district officials by surprise.

Anderson said one learning model the district is looking at is Altitude Learning, based in California, which offers project-based learning and student-driven programming.

“If a kid is passionate about taking apart computers, he’s going to take apart computers. If she’s passionate about the outdoors, she’s going to be using that outdoor space to create a garden,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be self-driven, self-passioned, getting those students engaged as they haven’t been in the past.”

Anderson noted that nothing has been finalized, and if the district decides to move forward with the alternative academy model, it might require collaborating with other school districts. The district might reach out to Bonduel, Clintonville and Menominee Indian school districts to see if there is interest.

“There’s multiple solutions out there,” Anderson said, adding that Rod Watson, Shawano Community Middle School’s associate principal, is helping to research the possibilities. She said that planning for the building will begin in earnest in June, which is not only when the regular school year ends but is also when the district plans to be through most of its strategic plan preparation.

School board member Beth MacFarlane embraced the idea, which would help students who are quite intelligent but might feel held back in the existing classroom model.

“I think this would fit really smart ones,” MacFarlane said. “They don’t always fit the mold in a regular school setting.”

School board president Tyler Schmidt also voiced support for the alternative academy concept, thinking it could serve a similar purpose that the LEADS Primary Charter School serves.

“I think it’s a good idea to try that,” Schmidt said. “I think building the confidence of the kids is so key, and that’s what I think LEADS does. That is so integral in some kids’ lives, just having the confidence to speak up for what they want or how they want to learn or how they do learn.”