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ASPIRE moves toward accreditation

by Sheila Gardner
sgardner@recordcourier.com


Lyn Gorrindo, assistant superintendent of education services discusses the ASPIRE high school accreditation process.
Jim Grant | The Record Courier

DETAILS

ASPIRE Academy High School is holding an open house 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the campus, 1617 Water St., Building E, Minden, across from the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center parking lot. Information, (775) 392-1475. Limited spaces are available.

Within the alphabet soup of educational acronyms, Douglas County officials hope ASPIRE reaches kids for whom traditional high school is a challenge.

When school begins Aug. 19, ASPIRE Academy High School is opening its doors on the path to becoming an accredited high school, joining Douglas and Whittell high schools.

ASPIRE stands for All Students Pursuing Integrity, Responsibility and Education. Since its inception in 2006, the alternative school has moved to several locations, finally settling in the Bently building across Buckeye Road from the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center parking lot.

At the July 9 school board meeting, trustees unanimously approved beginning the accreditation process which can take up to three years.

For Superintendent Lisa Noonan, and Assistant Superintendent Lyn Gorrindo, accreditation of ASPIRE is a long-held dream.

“For kids who desire a smaller school with more personalized instruction, it’s ideal,” said Gorrindo, assistant superintendent for education services. “This is my passion.”

Students shouldn’t expect Douglas High School Jr.

“It will be a much more structured environment with a closed campus and uniforms,” Gorrindo said.

ASPIRE Academy High School offers credit acceleration and recovery, a technology-based classroom, smaller personalized education plans and character education for 9th through 12th grade students.

Students will ride the school bus, and will be dropped off at the ASPIRE campus. The facility includes a commons, classrooms, library, and cafeteria/multipurpose room.

Lunch will be delivered every day from Douglas High School.

The overriding impetus behind ASPIRE becoming accredited is that “students would have a home and a sense of belonging,” Gorrindo said.

Noonan and Gorrindo said DHS Principal Marty Swisher went out of his way to make ASPIRE kids feel part of the high school, “but typically they felt like guests at somebody else’s house.”

“Mr. Swisher has been very, very supportive, but this will give us the autonomy we need,” Gorrindo said.

She and Noonan are aware that ASPIRE has an image problem as the place where “bad kids” who can’t make it in a regular program go to high school.

They prefer to see the students as “off-track in life,” and believe ASPIRE offers a place where they can excel. They also point to the majority of students who attend ASPIRE for reasons which have nothing to do with behavior.

“Our best marketing strategy is to have people come visit our school, take a tour, and see our students,” Noonan said. “We welcome visitors with open arms.”

The school district is hosting an open house 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the school.

Last year, ASPIRE had 85 students and 5.5 teachers. Twenty-five students joined their DHS counterparts at graduation.

That first year, 2006, credits earned totaled 17; last year, the figure was 530.

As an accredited high school ASPIRE Academy students will have their own graduation ceremony, dances, prom, clubs and extracurricular activities, Gorrindo said.

The school district budgeted $240,000 for ASPIRE. That includes hiring an administrator, counselor, teaching assistant and a foreign language program.

Noonan said the $240,000 came from an increase at the Legislature in Distributive School Account funding.

The staff includes teachers Miki Trujillo, Ron Mogab, Roger Cramer, Alecia Rohde, Ken Stockton; Kathy Kixmiller, interventionist; and Rod Smalley, who teaches social studies and monitors attendance. Tricia Wentz divides her counselor duties between ASPIRE and DHS.

Renée Bidart is administrative assistant.

Gorrindo will serve as principal until an administrator is hired.

“ASPIRE is for kids who prefer smaller, more personalized instruction,” she said.

The program allows students to learn at their own pace, but there are consequences just like the traditional curriculum if they fall behind.

Gorrindo said results have been remarkable for students committed to making up lost credits. The program is geared so they can get ahead, as well.

She explained that while ASPIRE uses a technology-based classroom, it’s not a charter school or distance education. Students must attend class.

They must meet the same core standards and proficiencies as their classmates at DHS or Whittell.

Gorrindo said the students were enthusiastic about school uniforms.

A donation from the Fairweather Foundation enabled ASPIRE to give each student two polo shirts. Last year, the shirts were white, grey, black and burgundy. This year, Gorrindo said, the school agreed to add pink and lime green at the request of female students.

“The students wear khaki pants or jeans with no holes — and belts with shirts tucked in,” she said. “This is a serious learning environment.”

With personal attention comes high expectations, Gorrindo said. Students are accountable for their academics and behavior.

“Every staff member knows every student’s name,” she said. “It’s a family atmosphere.”

Noonan said the students don’t hesitate to call each other out if they get out of line.

ASPIRE students have developed a reputation for community service. Projects so far include a memorial wall in front of the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center to honor deceased youth; feeding and clothing the homeless; Nature Conservancy projects; elementary school Study Buddies, and a community garden behind the ASPIRE building.

At Christmas, students conducted a random gift card give-away at Walmart.

In 2012, ASPIRE students purchased and installed a backyard play set for the family of a little girl who has cystic fibrosis and her big sister.

Gorrindo and Noonan are enthusiastic about a video productions and graphics arts program at the high school.

Students must fill out a questionnaire for ASPIRE to determine if they will be a match for the alternative high school. Once all spots are filled, there will be a waiting list, Noonan said.

“We’re looking for kids who haven’t been successful in traditional classrooms, or haven’t liked school, and would be happy to have the option of trying something different,” Noonan said.