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The Night Shift

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Alicia Andrew thinks it would be "cool'' to go to school in the evening, instead of during the day. So cool, in fact, that the 9th grader from Glendale, Calif., took her babysitting money out of her savings account last year and traveled with others from her district to Lacey, Wash., where one such school already exists.

What she and the other members of the Glendale Unified School District task force saw in Lacey may be the solution to their district's burgeoning enrollment problems: Take an existing high school, hire a separate teaching staff and administration, and let students who prefer later hours go to school in the evening.

The Lacey school, known as New Century High, so appealed to the Glendale task force that the district now plans to open a school like it in the fall of 1995. Classes will begin each day at 2:15 p.m. and end at 9 p.m. The school will have its own name, identity, staff, and students, but it will share a building with a day school. Now all the district needs to do is get a minimum of 200 students to buy into the idea.

Aside from the unusual hours, Glendale's evening school will function like any other high school, providing support services and all the courses required for graduation. Students will not be able to participate in interscholastic athletics, but district officials plan to add extracurricular activities and intramural sports as student interest demands.

Few such high schools currently exist around the country, but some national education observers believe the model may spread, as districts struggle to manage growing enrollments.

New Century High in Lacey was opened five years ago primarily to alleviate overcrowding. Housed in a building that serves 1,200 day students, the 200- student evening school boasts three computers for every student. It has become a sought-after alternative to the district's bigger, more impersonal day schools. That's what Alicia found so appealing. "I'd like it because it's a change,'' she says.

School officials in Glendale began to consider the evening program and other ideas a couple of years ago, when a decade of population growth began to overtake the district's three high schools. The number of high school students in the district--about 8,000 this year--is projected to swell to nearly 9,000 by 1997.

The task force explored such options as redistricting, building a new school, installing more portable classrooms, and switching to a multitrack, year-round calendar. But none seemed as promising--or as affordable--as the evening school, which requires additional funding only for a principal and extra electricity. District per-pupil spending and staff-student ratios stay the same.

"The whole idea originated because of [overcrowding],'' says Vic Pallos, a spokesman for the Glendale district. "But what became more and more apparent was that there were some very creative things we could do in the evening that we couldn't do during the day.''

Members of the business community, for example, will be available as guest lecturers. Students will have better access to computers and other equipment because the school will have fewer students than a daytime school. And freeing the day hours opens new opportunities for students. "You could work a day job, you could do volunteer work, you could take care of your brother or sister,'' explains Don Duncan, principal of a Glendale high school. Or, he says, "you could sleep in.''

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