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Committee Rejects alternative School

By C.r. Mcfadden

The Cambridge School Committee last night refused to approve a plan creating an alternative dropout prevention school for students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School.

Rather than approve the recommendation--which culminated nearly six months of research by Principal Edward R. Harrison and longtime school teacher William Toomey--the board referred the bill to a joint meeting of the district's dropout prevention and school safety committees.

"I think we all agree with the concept of the alternate school. We just are unsure on how to put the program together," said School Committee Vice Chair David P. Maher.

The dropout prevention program would have taken 15 recent dropouts from Cambridge's Rindge and Latin High School and placed them in a separate school where they would receive individualized instruction, counseling and guidance, Harrison said.

Under the plan, students would carry a schedule of English, math and social studies courses. Two full-time teachers would be assigned to the program and small discussion groups would replace traditional lectures, he said. "It would be a quality program," Toomey told the meeting of about 30 Cambridge residents and officials. "We don't want to give the child the impression that it's a dumping ground."

Teachers, students and parents could then set goals for the children to reach during the school year. Students would also undergo special counseling designed to modify their attitudes towards school, he said. "The way to keep these kids in school is to develop a sense of community," Harrison said.

The program was designed, Harrison said, so that students would spend no more than one full year in the program before then being returned to the regular high school.

"I asked these people to develop an alternative plan that will reach out to the students and provide them with activities, guidance and help with their transition," Superintendent Mary Lou McGrath said.

One objection raised by school committee members was that the program would offer only a limited science program. Although Harrison said students would perform science experiments, the proposal did not say whether they would receive course credit for their science work when they returned to Rindge and Latin.

"I want to be sure that it's contentrich," said Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72, noting that the committee spends nearly $10,000 in taxes for each student in the school district.

School Committee member E. Denise Simmons questioned some of the data compiled by Harrison and Toomey. She said she was unsure that the plan's guidelines would guarantee that students are correctly identified for the program.

"I want a program that really says why people leave the schools. Now that we have the best way to go forward, we need to see...who the students are," Simmons said. "If you know, that would be news to this committee."

And member Joseph G. Grassi charged that the program focuses on returning dropouts to school but does not devote much effort towards preventing current students from leaving.

What you're mentioning is dropouts. What was mentioned in September was presently disruptive students," Grassi said. "What I'm suggesting is that we come to a program where we can work on both of these."

"As this pertains to just dropouts, I don't support this proposal," he said.

Maher asked Harrison and Toomey to consider enlarging the program before bringing it back to the committee for further discussion.

Other Business

The committee briefly heard a report on the future status of federal and state funding for school breakfast and lunch programs. They learned there will be a rally in support of the nutrition programs next Monday at the Kennedy School, led by U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy 2d (D-Brighton).

Following the Pledge of Allegiance, the school committee had a brief moment of silence to show support for the school's varsity boys' basketball team, which will compete in the Massachusetts state finals later this week.

The school board also voted without objection to grant the junior class $1,000 to help finance the 1995 prom. It will be held June 9 at the Marriott Hotel in Kendall Square.

"Does anyone need a chaperone?" wondered School Committee member Alfred B. Fantini.

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