Students in District 103 facing suspensions or serious disciplinary issues will have a new chance to be mainstreamed back into regular classrooms when the district implements an alternative school-within-a-school program this fall.

Previously, according to Supt. Raymond Lauk, students being disciplined for inappropriate behavior either served an in-school suspension, were suspended from the school entirely for a period up to 10 days or were referred to the West 40 Intermediate Service Center.

That solution wasn’t serving students, Lauk said. In-school suspensions at the district’s elementary schools were typically served in the school office; at George Washington Middle School it was the assistant principal’s office. More severe discipline cases were either banished from the school building for a time or simply removed from the district altogether.

According to Lauk, the program grew out of “frustration with not having enough tools for dealing with student discipline.

“Now we have a structured place with a teacher to supervise.”

The Alternative School will be housed in an underused building on the grounds of the Dist. 103 office in Lyons, just a short distance from the middle school. It will be staffed by one certified teacher and two teacher’s aides, whose total salaries were estimated by Lauk at around $65,000.

The program will serve students who receive both in-school and what were traditionally out-of-school suspensions. In extraordinary circumstances, students can still be referred to West 40, Lauk said. While it’s impossible to predict how many students might be referred to the Alternative School each year, Lauk said it “could easily be 12 at a time.”

The program was conceived by new George Washington Middle School Principal Robert Hildreth, whose background with similar alternative programs in other districts is extensive.

Hildreth was responsible for the New Directions program, an alternative education center helping severe and profoundly behavioral disorder students that served five school districts in St. Charles. He also started the EFFORT (Encouraging Fundamental Foundations Of Respect and Trust) program at Deerpath Junior High School in Lake Forest, where he worked as assistant principal.

“It was a way for all students, parents and teachers to communicate in a respectful manner,” Hildreth said. “We set the bar for our expectations.”

The centerpiece of Dist. 103’s Alternative School program will be a nine-week intensive program for students with severe disciplinary or emotional issues that Hildreth described as an “intensive, therapeutic type of setting” that focuses on both academics and getting to the bottom of the student’s behavior problems.

The goal is not to merely isolate the students from the general population. Rather, Lauk said the real aim of the program is to get the children prepared to return to their classrooms.

“This is not jail,” Lauk said. “It’s an alternative placement for kids whose behavior is not appropriate. But the goal is to get them back into school.”

Hildreth said alternative programs have a proven record of success.

“We took 32 kids in our first year at New Directions, and 31 returned to mainstream classrooms without incident,” Hildreth said. “The success rate was high. You just have to make sure there’s a real solid connection for kids to go to if they have a blip.

“It’s not coddling. It’s giving them an opportunity to internalize their emotions. It helps the staff, too.

Lauk posted the position for the Alternative School teacher July 27 and expects to hire a candidate within the month.