EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON
LLANO — In the moment a student decides to drop out of high school, it might seem like the right decision despite advice from teachers, educators, and parents. With time, however, the former student could look back and wonder what would their life would be like today if they only earned their high school diploma.
Llano Independent School District wants to help those former students — and even current students at that crossroads — answer the question.
“You know, I think research shows that it’s not until you are somewhere between 19 and 26 that you start realizing your parents — and your teachers — know what they are talking about. But when you’re in high school and things aren’t going like you want, no matter what teachers or administrators may try to tell them, some students think it’s better (out of school),” said LISD Assistant Superintendent James Payne. “There are some things they just have to learn for themselves, and the importance and value of a high school diploma can be one of those things.”
For many young adults who have dropped out of high school, that realization comes too late. However, starting next school year, former high school students under the age of 26 can go back to class as LISD opens Crossroads High School, a non-traditional learning facility.
Llano High School Assistant Principal Toby Fletcher is a strong advocate for the non-traditional high school, so much so that he’ll be the campus principal when Crossroads opens in August. The school will be located on Oatman Street in the vicinity of the LISD administration offices.
Fletcher, who taught at Falls Career High School in Marble Falls before taking the Llano position, believes Crossroads will fulfill a need the community has felt for many years. One thing high school teachers and administrators, as well as parents, hate to see is a student drop out of high school for any reason.
“Some students, they have to go to work,” Fletcher said. “And a traditional high school just doesn’t have the flexibility to work with those kids.”
Other students don’t like all the superfluous things that go along with a traditional high school such as extracurricular activities, clubs, and social stresses. They just want to go to school and get out, quickly and efficiently. Then, there’s the fragmented nature of a traditional high school: A student settles into a class, gets involved in the lesson but then has to head to the next class because the clock says to.
“That’s not for every student,” Fletcher said of the traditional high school model.
Unfortunately for high school students in LISD, it was the only choice they had. Some struggled through it, or struggle through it now, while others opted out altogether.
Crossroads, however, offers a different model. Students still must meet certain academic standards to earn their high school diploma, but they will have more flexibility in class attendance and scheduling. The format features more of a “self-paced” style of learning. Students who need a job can stay in school and work around both their job and class schedules.
Students who prefer a simpler school setting will find it at Crossroads.
“It gives students an alternative to finishing high school or coming back and getting the high school diploma,” Fletcher said.
The value of a high school diploma extends beyond completing classes. Payne explained earning a diploma has significant economic benefits for both the individual and the community. A high school diploma translates into higher wages and earnings, both immediate and long term.
“Making $9 an hour at 18 sounds pretty good, but when you’re 45, have a couple of kids, and, over that time, you’ve got $3 (an hour) in raises, it doesn’t look as good,” Payne said. “Research has shown that a person with a high school diploma makes more than a person who doesn’t have one over their life. You also are going to need a diploma if you want to go on to a trade school or college.”
Even the military requires a high school diploma, the assistant superintendent added.
Fletcher pointed out that high school dropouts generally require more community and government resources through aid programs because of their lower earning potential. A high school diploma can also change a person’s path relating to incarceration. According to a Northeastern University study, one out of 10 male high school dropouts, ages 16-24, are in jail or juvenile detention, compared to one in 35 young males in that age bracket with high school diplomas.
Housing a person in a jail, prison, or a juvenile detention center far outweighs the cost of helping them get a high school education.
A lot of it comes back to employability. Good-paying jobs that don’t require at least a high school diploma are basically a thing of the past. Today, a high school diploma is a basic necessity, while post-secondary education — colleges or trade and technical schools — open even more possibilities for a person.
But getting into those higher education settings requires finishing high school.
“Yes, there are people who drop out of high school and do fabulous, we all hear those stories,” Payne said. “But those are outliers. Statistics show you have much more earning potential with a high school diploma than without one.”
The first key to making a good living and creating a nice life is finishing high school.
If the traditional format isn’t for a person then a non-traditional setting such as Crossroads might be the right fit.
“This gives those kids who might have chose a different route a way to come back and get their diploma,” Payne said.
The young adult doesn’t have to be a former Llano High School student; it could be someone (under 26) who dropped out of another school but has moved to the Llano school district.
It’s also for kids currently enrolled in Llano High School who prefer a non-traditional setting.
“We’re going to start small the first year — about 18 to 25 students — and we’ll grow it from there,” Fletcher said. “I’m excited about this because it’s going to be great for the students and great for our community.”
In the end, it’s not just about helping young people earn a diploma. Payne said it goes well beyond that.
“It’s about giving them hope,” he said.
Applications for Crossroads High School should be online at llanoisd.org. Call the LISD central office at (325) 247-4747 for more information.