New York City's alternative school system is unique in terms of its variety, scope, and longevity. City alternative programs date from the 19th century, although the bulk came into existence in the early 1970s. Alternative schools and programs at 130 sites currently serve 22,000 students, 10 percent of New York City high school pupils. ``I haven't found anything elsewhere that is even a fraction of that,'' says Stephen Phillips, New York's superintendent for alternative high schools and programs.
The Argus Community School is not just an alternative school. It is also an ``offsite'' school, operating from the premises of the Argus Community, a 20-year-old private, nonprofit agency providing intensive counseling, vocational training, and work experience. ``Our success in running these schools is attributable to the community organizations,'' Mr. Phillips says. He credits much of the school's success to the support structure set up by Argus Community's president, Elizabeth Sturz.
The New York school system funds the teachers; the agency, which is funded by city and state agencies and private grants, pays the counselors.
The concept of merging schools with social agency services is growing; there are 53 Offsite Educational Services locations in New York. By September, it is expected there will be 67 such sites in operation.
``I think we're the only school system in the world that sends teachers to all sorts of social service agencies,'' Phillips says. ``We go to where the students are.'' That includes running classes for homeless children in the hotels that serve as temporary housing, and in prisons.