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SHEPHERDSVILLE - Whatever stigmas come to mind when “Riverview” or “Bullitt Alternative Center” is mentioned; forget them.
It’s out with the alternative school’s old ways come August, when new principal Brenda Pirtle steps in, along with her new assistant principal Angela Bibelhauser and a slew of fresh teachers.
The two will oversee the Alternative Center, which can have up to 45 students at a time, and the Riverview Opportunity Center, which provides services for Bullitt Advanced Math and Science (BAMS) students. There is also one teacher at Spring Meadows for students.
Fortunately, the BAMS program, which began two years ago, is running smoothly, so Pirtle can direct most of her attention to the Alternative Center.
“About 80 percent of our time will be here,” she said. “10 to 15 percent will be at Riverview, and the rest at Spring Meadows. But we will make a schedule and someone will be with the BAMS kids every day, which wasn’t always done in the past.”
When the Alternative Center posted the position, Pirtle said she became excited thinking about the opportunities the school has to succeed.
“I’m not sure about the details of the past, but I want to focus on the details of what I want the future to look like,” she said. “This is a school for struggling kids who need something different to be successful.”
Since the main focus of the school’s past has primarily been on behavior, Pirtle knew something needed to change.
“From my experience, I realized that needed to be coupled with academic instruction,” she added. “Students who have academic strategies to deal with in the classroom will make them more successful and not so frustrated; that’s when they would act out.”
Pirtle has 24 years of experience in the Bullitt County school system, half of those being in administrative positions. She was principal of Brooks Elementary before becoming a district monitoring administrator. Bibelhauser has never had an administrative position, but she was a behavior coach at Bullitt Lick and an Instructional coach in middle and high schools throughout the county.
To prepare for the position, Bibelhauser and Pirtle visited alternative schools in Oldham and Shelby counties.
“We have picked their brains and taken pieces to see what would work for us,” Bibelhauser said.
Several big changes will occur inside the walls of Bullitt Alternative Center. Structure in the classroom is Pirtle’s main concern.
“Students like this, or any students really, need structure,” she said. “The strategies we will be using, including highly structured routines in academics, are important pieces in the way this program is going to run.”
Students at the alternative center will have goal-setting exercises each week, and will measure their progress based on both academic and behavioral goals. In the past, students were at the center for set amounts of time, then spent days bouncing back and forth to a home school.
“We are no longer going to do that,” Pirtle said. “When we see consistency in their behavior, we will start to transition them to more freedom, then half-days at their home school, then full days.”
Pirtle has moved her office into the center of the school, near several of the classrooms in order to be closer to students.
“We are completely hands-on,” she said. “We will be in the classrooms every day, building relationships.”
Relationships is a critical word to Pirtle; she believes in getting to know each student, especially those who struggle with anger issues and understanding limits. She said she does not want students to feel they will be forgotten when they do transition back into their home schools.
About nine students will return to the alternative center after the summer, and these are the students Pirtle is most worried about. To take extra caution, she will visit these students at home to give them the information they need.
“There’s going to be a little bit of anxiety because it was different from them,” she said. “The visits are to make sure they aren’t so shocked when they come back.”
She added that making sure parents know they are welcome at the school was another key factor in the program’s success.
“It’s critical to talk before there are problems and for them to know we are on their side, so they will be on our side,” she said.
Students at the Alternative Center will experience more one-on-one time with teachers instead of so much time on computers.
“There will be conferences because of smaller class sizes,” Bibelhauser said. “Having a teacher there will benefit the students more.”
Perhaps the biggest struggle for the school’s administration will be changing the mindset of the community and students about the school. Both Pirtle and Bibelhauser stressed the fact that the curriculum at the Alternative Center will be the same as any other public school.
“I want people to know this is still a school and there will be learning targets just like any other,” Pirtle said. “There is a lot to be worried about to make everyone understand that it’s different now, but it is exciting to see the evolution take place.”
Bibelhauser felt the biggest challenge would be to change the mindset of the students and to help them understand they can do work even though the expectations will be high.
“The first few months will be rough, but we will keep pushing and they will understand,” she said. “We just want the kids to know that when they leave here they can be successful. Every kid can make poor choices, but we can help fix it and get them back on track.”