Lee County

Renovations will continue on the Lee County Learning Center in Salem until early next month, when the center will welcome its first students.

The Lee County School System is on track to welcome students to its newest facility early next month. The Lee County Learning Center will be the system’s 15th school, and it will afford students in grades seven through 12 options for a nontraditional education.

Located on Lee Road 145 in Salem, the Learning Center was approved by the school board in May. But Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Stan Cox said the idea for a nontraditional learning environment has been under discussion for several years.

“It all started with a dream about four years ago and wanting to provide learning opportunities for students who don’t fit the traditional school model,” Cox explained.

After studying at the system’s graduation and dropout rates, as well as exit interviews, administrators began looking for ways to grant students more flexibility to earn their high school diplomas.

Most are graduating, some are completing – or earning a GED – and some are still enrolled.

“But then we have some that either dropped out or just didn’t come back to us,” Cox said, adding the self-paced, computer-based Learning Center “becomes an option we can throw out there.”

The Learning Center will use State Department of Education programs ACCESS and COMPASS, along with two certified teachers with experience teaching both regular and advanced classes to facilitate learning and answer questions.

“They have the heart to work with kids and help them be successful,” Cox said. “When you picture a teacher’s heart, these two teachers have that.”

The newly-renovated facility will welcome 15 students in early September, but can hold up to 225. Students, parents and schools can request transfer to the Learning Center due to any number of issues with traditional school. Some students can only attend classes for partial days due to work schedules, while others have experienced social or academic issues in a traditional school environment.

“It’s really open for all. There’s really no limit to it,” Cox said. “It’s a hybrid. It’s whatever the students need.”

Cox said the Learning Center is not a charter school, and the idea for the program was developed before the Alabama Legislature passed its charter school bill. He cautioned the school will not have the “frills” of a traditional school, like pep rallies or other activities.

Still, Cox expects the program to grow and says the system is looking to expand on the years-long dream.

“This is just one part of our dream. Our dream is to expand it, drop down and pick up some middle schoolers, expand to adult learners,” he said. “It all started with looking at our graduation rate and dropout rate and not wanting to leave any child behind.”

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