MMSD works with alternative school to close achievement gap - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

MMSD works with alternative school to close achievement gap

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MADISON (WKOW) -- We've heard a lot of talk about the achievement gap from the Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) this year, but now we're seeing some action the district is taking to close that gap between white and minority students.

MMSD is working with Operation Fresh Start (OFS), an alternative school that turns high school dropouts into graduates. They're hoping to improve graduation rates, while creating productive workers.

OFS is part class work, part hands-on work for students who struggle to succeed in regular classrooms. They spend sessions studying and preparing to take the GED or HSED, doing conservation work, and construction projects.

"It works a lot better for a lot of students who just don't have the attention span to sit in a class and listen to a teacher," says Jay Plasman, an OFS teacher.

Plasman's job has changed since the MMSD partnership. His part-time teaching position is funded through the district now, along with other costs. MMSD is paying to give 30 dropouts every year a chance to earn an MMSD diploma. That's $6,000 per student. It's part of the efforts to close the achievement gap by targeting the dropouts and increasing graduation rates.

Students say the hands-on work they do like building houses is a better way to learn and helps them reach their goals to graduate and go on to college.

"[The teachers] actually help you get through school and they're great mentors, so it's more than a job," says Brandon Young, a 21-year-old student in OFS.

Now, the chance to get a real high school diploma is even more appealing to area students.

"Without a high school diploma, you can't get very far at all in life, so it's just one less thing to worry about after getting out of here," says 17-year-old student Adam Lawrence, from Stoughton. Lawrence plans to go on to technical college after finishing OFS.

This is the first year MMSD is providing funding and a half-time teaching position for OFS. The non-profit runs mostly off donations and funding from groups like Americorps.

The partnership helps close the achievement gap by targeting the students within the district that are at risk of not graduating, getting to them before it's too late. Plus, it boosts the district's overall graduation rates and gives the students a better outlook for the future with an MMSD diploma-- rather than a GED. With a diploma, students have more options when moving on to college or getting a job.

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