This semester KCSS has extended its hours to help students earn high school credits in less time than they might at a traditional high school. Previously, the school day ended at 2:30 p.m. Now, students can arrive as late as lunchtime and stay until 5:45 p.m. or they can arrive at the customary 7:30 a.m. start and work through the longer school day. The three extra hours allow students with scheduling conflicts due to employment and childcare issues to work toward earning their high school diploma. This year eight KCSS students also are enrolled in Woodruff Career and Technical Center (WCTC) programs, enabling them to graduate from high school with employment skills they can use immediately.
One size does not fit all,” was a common refrain this week as 25 Peoria Public Schools students accepted their high school diplomas at the Knoxville Center for Student Success (KCSS) mid-year graduation ceremony. KCSS Principal Eric Thomas told the students, “This ceremony represents a lot of hard work. It represents staying up later, getting up earlier and making an extra effort to graduate.” Thomas noted that KCSS has no assistant principals or deans like traditional high schools, but does have 14 dedicated teachers who make sure the students are completing the credits they need to finish high school. “I am so proud of each of you,” Superintendent Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat told the students. “It is true that one size does not fit all and if a traditional high school approach work, we will try something else and we will keep trying until we find what works.”
The focus of the Knoxville Center for Student Success (KCSS) has evolved in the four years since Eric Thomas became principal. Initially the school was designed to serve as a way station for students transitioning from incarceration or suspensions back to one of District 150’s three traditional high schools and as a way to add supports for chronically truant students. For increasing numbers of students, however, KCSS has become not a temporary stop, but their “home” high school. “We offer a different structure for students who may not have had a successful freshmen and sophomore year and are behind on credits,” explains Thomas. “We don’t have big hallways or homecoming or prom, although we do have our own celebrations. We’re low-key and there are fewer distractions so students can focus on catching up on the credits they need and completing high school on time.” The school offers extended opportunities to catch up. The school day has nine class periods, rather than seven and the computer lab with Compass Learning is open for three extra hours each Monday through Thursday afternoon as well as during the summer months, provided funding exists. By having online classes mixed with teacher-instructed classes, students are afforded the opportunity to catch up on credits where they have fallen behind due to various life obstacles they are facing. The unusual structure means that a student who has fallen behind can earn 11 credits in a year, rather than the traditional seven. Some of the students have young children and many have jobs, so offering flexibility is important in helping them earn their high school diploma. One recent graduate, a 21-year-old young man, returned to school because, although he had worked several jobs, he knew his chances for keeping a job or advancing were limited without a high school diploma. The students travel to KCSS from all corners of Peoria. Each student is given a CityLink bus pass each day to travel to and from school. The school is