Northside graduates reflect on school’s shift

Carol Thompson
Traverse City Record-Eagle

Kalkaska — It was home sweet school.

That’s how some graduates recall Northside Alternative High School in Kalkaska, a program that for years was held in a beige, one-story building a few miles from Kalkaska High School.

Northside was familiar and familial, they said. Teachers gave students rides to school. Food was available between every class. Smoke breaks were allowed.

“If it wasn’t for Northside, I probably wouldn’t actually have graduated,” said Brittney Hall, who attended Northside from 2004-06.

“I went there and everything kind of changed for me.”

The school atmosphere will change again. Kalkaska Public Schools school board voted in April to move the program to a wing in the high school because of budget cuts stemming from a years-old tax error.

The school’s staff will shrink from one principal and five teachers to just three part-time teachers, said KHS Principal John Sattler, who will take over alternative school administration.

Sattler expects between 35-40 students to enroll in the alternative program next year. He said there were about 60 students enrolled at Northside in February.

Sattler doesn’t intend to oversee the district’s alternative high school as-is. He applied with the state of Michigan to rename Northside to Kalkaska Alternative Program.

The new name reflects unity, Sattler said. Students will all be the Blue Blazers and wear the school colors, blue and white. Alternative program students can play sports and attend career programs.

“The kids weren’t really excited about it,” Sattler said. “They wanted to be purple. They wanted to be the Knights, but ultimately it’s a Kalkaska diploma, it’s not a Northside diploma.”

Annalecia Franko, said Northside was a shelter from traditional high schools. The 2016 graduate said she fell behind in classes with little one-on-one attention and was bullied for her weight at KHS.

She predicted animocity between KHS and alternative program students, she said.

Sattler said alternative program and high school students will be kept separate, but not by a physical gate. Students of the two schools will arrive and leave at the same time, but will have separate lunch breaks, classrooms and bathrooms, he said.

Other changes may include moving Northside’s classes like gardening to after-school clubs, and restricting students older than 19 to online GED programs to limit their contact with younger students.

Students should learn the importance of education and be willing to follow school rules in order to get one, Sattler said.

“We want kids to walk out these doors being prepared for life, whether it’s going to college or going into the work world,” he said.

It’s a different administrative attitude than what Northside graduate Emily Moe described.

Moe said Northside teachers were willing to overlook things like tardiness, wearing hats or drinking coffee in class if that’s what it takes to get a student to school. They offered food, patience, advice.

“It’s more easygoing (at Northside),” Moe said. “They don’t freak out about the small stuff.”

Moe, 16, considers herself an adult. She works, pays her bills. She said Northside students “grow up quick.” They got support at Northside, but she worries that’s all going to change.

“The biggest thing there is don’t give up on yourself,” Moe said. “Because it’s really easy to give up on yourself.”