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District moves alternative ed. program to OMS



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August 22, 2012 - Oxford's alternative education program, Crossing Bridges, has two major changes in store for the 2012-13 school year, which begins next month.

First, the name will be changed. The school will now be known as Oxford Bridges. The second change is a new location. Previously housed at Echo Grove Salvation Army camp, Oxford Bridges (OB) will relocate to the Oxford Middle School.

OB Principal Michael Schweig is excited about the new home for the 50 students who applied for admission into this year's program. Designed for students who "crave the freedom to express themselves in different ways, at their own pace, and in smaller peer groups," OB will offer these 50 students two classrooms in an "exclusive section of the building located on the second floor immediately at the front of the building near the Fieldhouse," Schweig said.

Schweig added that OB students will be served separate lunches on the second floor, and will have their own supervisory personnel.

In addition to the primary location at the Middle School, Schweig anticipates using the maintenance building at the Oxford Elementary School on Pontiac Street in the spring semester.

Now in its third year, OB was moved out of the Echo Grove Salvation Army camp because administrators were "unable to agree on terms that would fit within our budget and accommodate the educational needs of our students," Schweig said. According to Oxford Middle School Principal Ken Weaver, however, the departure from Echo Grove had more to do with Echo Grove's concerns about insurance and liability.

Echo Grove Camp director Mark McClenaghan did not respond to requests for information on the camp's experience with Oxford Bridges or the reasons for the school's departure.

There were several locations administrators considered to house the OB students, but they felt unwilling to commit school resources at this time, opting instead for a "school-within-a-school" approach to alternative education. The high school was briefly considered, but Schweig said that no "contiguous space" could be located at OHS. Schweig did not indicate who was responsible for scheduling rooms in the high school building.

Before deciding to return to the Middle School, administrators considered a building out on Lakeville Road, yet Schweig said that "bringing the property . . . up to code was cost prohibitive."

However, at the Aug. 8 school board meeting, Superintendent Dr. William Skilling said a building was considered but that it "just looked like a sinkhole, and we said that's not a good investment."

Skilling added they "all felt pressured" and thought it unwise to make a decision in haste. Now that they've moved to the OMS instead, "we're in control of the space," Skilling added.

Principal Weaver offered still another version. He confirmed that another building was considered, but said the reason Oxford didn't choose it was because the district was outbid for the property.

Whatever the real reason for their inability to procure a permanent space for the OB program, school administrators do not expect any difficulty housing the two school populations. Schweig said OB students and staff "will be completely separate from the OMS student body." OB students will begin and end their school days at different times than the Middle Schoolers, and will have their own way in and out of the Middle School.

Parents needn't worry about student populations mingling, administrators emphasized. According to the district's Communications Director Linda Lewis, "the two student groups will never cross paths."

OB students were housed for a short while at the middle school last year, Schweig recalled, and he said they "exhibited appropriate behavior without incident. We expect the same type of atmosphere will continue in the 2012-13 school year."

The long term plan is to bring the OB program to the high school, Schweig added, but logistical considerations made the move untenable at this point. He expects Oxford Bridges to be housed at the high school beginning in the fall of 2013. Questions concerning the Oxford Bridges program or its relocation to the middle school should be directed to Lewis at (248) 969-5049 or come to the Aug.22 school board meeting.

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