As we move into the LCFF/LCAP era, California’s 520 continuation high schools take on increased significance. The LCFF focuses on low income and foster youth and English language learners, who make up a majority of a continuation school’s student body. To help meet a school district’s LCAP priorities in student engagement, school climate and student achievement, continuation schools must be given the resources, appropriate professional development and intentional school staffing to enable students to be supported at the highest levels and build positive community involvement.
Continuation education is a high school diploma program designed to meet the needs of students 16-18 years old who have not graduated from high school, are not exempt from compulsory school attendance, and are deemed at risk of not completing their education. Students enrolled in continuation schools are often credit deficient, need flexibility in their educational program because of work or family obligations, or are simply not able to function in a large comprehensive school.
The continuation high school serves as our education system’s dropout prevention program. For many students, it is a second chance and safety net to help them complete their high school graduation requirements and earn a diploma.
Ineffective teachers and administrators used to be – and sometimes still are – assigned to continuation schools. The problem with this scenario is that the students they serve are not the self-motivated students who know their paths and just need us adults to help them through the educational bureaucracy.
Clearly, most continuation students need extra academic support and adults who genuinely care – adults who have behavior management skills and an understanding of non-academic learning barriers. An understanding of youth development, grit and resilience is also necessary in the continuation environment.
Continuation Schools, LCFF and LCAP
There can be a belief that the continuation high school simply “babysits” students until they graduate or become exempt from compulsory education at age 18 and drop out. That is, until now.
Under the Local Control Funding Formula, all districts receive base funding allocated by grade span. In addition, districts will receive supplemental funding that amounts to an additional 20 percent of the base grant for an unduplicated count of low-income, EL and foster youth. If these students amount to more than 55 percent of the district enrollment, the districts will receive an additional 50 percent of the base grant for those students.
Continuation schools should receive some of these resources to support these targeted sub-groups. For example, in 2013-14, one large school district in southern California had 47 percent of its students designated as low income, EL and foster youth. The population of the district’s continuation education program accounted for 69 percent of the district’s low income, EL and foster youth population.
The Changing Face
There has been a change at continuation schools, where school leaders and staff now genuinely want to work with these students and are transforming their lives. School districts need to allow principals to hire teachers and support staff members they believe will fit in the school community. School districts should also provide access to specialized professional development through regional districts of the California Continuation Education Association (cceanet.org).
Of the 520 continuation schools in California, 62 – or 12 percent – are Model Continuation Schools. These schools are fantastic resources and are listed on the California Department of Education website.
Continuation schools should strive to achieve six-year accreditation designations through WASC and apply for California Model Continuation School designation. These activities require a lot of work; however, the payoff is invaluable.