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About Lehman Alternative Community School

Jump to:  About Our History  |  About Our Alternativeness
 
The Lehman Alternative Community School is a nationally renowned public middle school/high school in Ithaca, New York. LACS enrolls roughly 300 students by a random lottery evenly spread across grades 6-12. The school emphasizes student choice and responsibility, with each student planning their schedule and helping to run the school.

LACS school governance includes Family Groups, Committees, and the weekly All School Meetings. Students graduate by exhibition through portfolios and performances, demonstrating mastery in essential skills and knowledge. Classes are small and explore subjects in-depth with an emphasis on student engagement and close student/staff relationships. The school values learning outside of the classroom, including through community service, Tuesday and Thursday projects, and spring “Trips Week.”

Students are evaluated through quarterly narrative evaluations and self-reflections. They are supported in taking responsibility for their learning and for contributing positively to the school community and greater society.
 

Lehman: Dave Lehman was the founder and principal of the school from 1974 until 2004, in collaboration with his wife, Judy Lehman, the school secretary.

Alternative: We are an alternative to traditional schools, in our curriculum, our school governance, our structures, our philosophies, and our culture.

Community: We believe in being both a community within our school and in contributing to the larger Ithaca and global communities.

School: Students demonstrate essential skills and knowledge through portfolios and performances rather than credits and reflect on their learning through written evaluations rather than grades.


 

About Our History

In 1974, parents and teachers in Ithaca, New York, rallied support on the school board to create a junior high school that would provide students with an educational experience that would be empowering, relevant, and democratic. Dr. Dave Lehman was recruited to be the school's first principal. The result was the New Junior High Program (NJHP) for grades 7-9, which was housed in the old Markles Flats building on the corner of Court and Plain Streets in downtown Ithaca. In 1977, the program was moved to Ithaca High School’s E-Wing and in 1978, grades 10–12 were added. In 1981, grade 6 was added, and the school became the Alternative Community School (ACS). From its inception, the school embraced democratic decision-making with staff operating by consensus, students and staff participating in a one-person-one-vote weekly All School Meeting, and parents and community members participating through the Site-Based Council.

In 1983, ACS moved to its current location in the former West Hill Elementary School at 111 Chestnut Street. In 1987, the school joined the Coalition of Essential Schools, a national secondary school reform movement initiated by Ted Sizer of Brown University. The Coalition's Common Principles include "Less is More - Depth Over Coverage," "Student as Worker - Teacher as Coach," and "Demonstration of Mastery." ACS was instrumental in successfully advocating for a 10th Coalition Principle, "Democracy and Equity."  ACS’s participation in the Coalition of Essential Schools led it to develop its own unique set of high school graduation requirements and alternative means of evaluating student progress - Graduation By Exhibition (GBE). GBE allowed the school to shift from "credits" and the New York State Regents Examinations to outcome-based based assessments through portfolios and performances of skills and knowledge. This work led ACS to be designated, in the fall of 1992, as one of the first "Compact Partnership Schools" under the Board of Regents and Commissioner's "New Compact for Learning." 

Following the retirement of its founding principal, Dave Lehman, and the school secretary, Judy Lehman, in 2004, the school was renamed the Lehman Alternative Community School (LACS). In 2010, the school district added an addition to the building and enrollment grew to 305 students with a wait list of over one hundred. In 2016, the middle school component of LACS formally shifted from credits to Promotion By Exhibition, and the school instituted a digital portfolio system called OxPort. LACS is one of 28 public high schools in the New York Performance Standards Consortium that oversees waivers to the Regents Exams. As part of the Consortium, LACS has added Performance Based Assessment Tasks (PBATs) in English, social studies, math, and science as additional graduation requirement, beginning with the class of 2019.


 

About Our Alternativeness


Agency, Voice, and Empowerment
LACS’ philosophy states; "We believe in encouraging students to use freedom responsibly, and to make educational choices appropriate to their individual levels of development." (see Philosophy in the LACS Footbook). LACS offers broad academic freedom to students, including having them design their own course of study. Students are on a first name basis with their teachers, and some students help teach classes and projects. Rather than grades, students receive written evaluations, and reflect and evaluate on their own learning at the end of each quarter.

Democratic School Governance
Every student is part of a "Family Group" that provides guidance and teaches students to "live cooperatively with others." Each student participates in a "committee" that helps to run some aspect of the school. Examples include the Alternative Community Court (ACC) that deals with disciplinary issues, the Agenda Committee that runs the All School Meetings, WAM that oversees student mentoring, and the maintenance committee. Each student also participates in a weekly All School Meeting (ASM), deciding many key issues facing the school. During ASMs, students and staff discuss and vote on proposals to change the school.

Meaningful In-Depth Learning
The school's philosophy statement begins; "We believe we have a responsibility to promote a broader world view and a positive change by the way we design our curriculum and prepare our students for learning throughout their lives." (see Footbook) LACS classes emphasize depth over breadth and critical thinking over memorization. The LACS curriculum stresses in-depth research, writing, experimentation, problem-solving, and performance. Many classes explore complex issues that reflect the school's commitment to both social justice and critical thinking. LACS classes are typically quite small, with many English/social studies and math/science classes using longer 90-minute blocks for interdisciplinary study.

Sustainability, Service, and Social Justice
LACS has a commitment to creating a sustainable community in all aspects of the school, including the school lunch program, various classes, and volunteer opportunities. LACS works closely with Ithaca's Youth Farm to grow and consume local, organic produce for our school lunch program. The LACS service program has become a core part of many student's experience at the school. While the service requirement at middle school (1 cycle) and high school (60 hours) may be an initial motivation for some students, many LACS alumni reflect back on their service experiences as having been critical in shaping their identities as caring and active adults. The humanities curriculum at LACS emphasizes both social responsibility and critical thinking, with courses such as Facing History and Ourselves, Civil Rights Literature, and People’s History of the United States. While the curriculum and requirements such as the Facing Bias Essential explicitly value social justice, LACS students are also taught to think critically and to question the values and actions of the school community.

Portfolios and Performance
LACS' middle school Promotion by Exhibition (PBE) and high school Graduation by Exhibition (GBE) portfolios require students to demonstrate to themselves and others the skills and knowledge they have mastered (see Footbook). Classes build core academic skills while requiring students to make choices about the content of their studies. Many classes ask students to give public performances of learning, such as the student-run Shakespeare project, the Middle East Debates, and the Performance Based Assessment Tasks delivered by all juniors. In order to graduate, each student must complete a complex digital portfolio with demonstrations in 10 Essential Areas that show their fundamental skills and knowledge in over 50 core outcomes. These Essential Areas include the traditional subject areas (English, Math, Arts, PE, etc.), as well as unique LACS requirements voted in by the All School Meeting, including "Community Service," "Career Explorations," "Conflict Resolution," and "Facing Bias." Each student also is responsible for completing an "8th Grade Challenge" and "Senior Project" that are on display at middle school promotion and high school graduation.

Self-Reflection and Support
LACS alumni often comment on the way the school helped them to figure out who they were as individuals and to take ownership for their own learning. LACS does not give grades but staff write individual narrative evaluations each quarter in response to student reflections on their own strengths, challenges and opportunities for growth. As important as academic skills and knowledge, particularly in middle school, are LACS's "Habits of Responsibility for a Self Directed Learner." (see Footbook) Each student reflects on these "Habits" (organization, awareness, respect, initiative and perseverance) through goal setting in Family Group and throughout the curriculum. When students struggle with being successful at LACS, they are dealt with individually with an emphasis on self-reflection, responsibility, and the development of strategies for success.

Trips and Projects
LACS believes that some of the most important learning takes place outside of the classroom. In the fall, the entire school takes a two-day retreat to build relationships and community. In the spring, students choose from many options for the school's week-long "Trips Week." During the 4th quarter, the bulk of each Thursday is devoted to training and fundraising for Trips Week. Many trips include physical challenges such as canoeing, biking, and rock climbing. Local trips may visit nearby museums or make films. Service trips include the Katrina Relief trip to New Orleans and the Akwesasnee trip to the Mohawk Reservation. Global language students have the option of joining a Family Group that spends the year fundraising for a weeklong trip to a French- or Spanish-speaking country. LACS builds extended time in for “Projects” each Tuesday afternoon and Thursday morning. Students choose from academic projects (bio lab, math help, senior seminar), physical projects (hiking, tap dance), hands on projects (silk-screening, photo lab) and time for community service or career explorations. Many projects are led by students. We also have an all school morning meeting each Monday and Friday for school and community announcements.

Diversity and Equity
LACS is a public school with a student body reflective of the ethnic, socioeconomic, and geographic diversity within the Ithaca City School District. The school aims to "remain steadfastly responsive to the people who make up the school community and, thus, to adapt to the changing needs of our students, parents/caregivers, and staff." LACS has a long history of anti-racism and equity work and reflecting on the biases and limitations that inevitably exist within the school community. Classes and other curricular activities are heterogeneously grouped and generally include students from multiple grades. As a small school with many students attending from 6th through 12th grade, each student is typically known well by the community of students and staff. This is reflected in LACS’ 4+ hour long graduation ceremony where each of the roughly 40 graduates present their senior project before appearing on stage as a staff member presents them to the audience with a 3-minute speech. No student graduates from LACS without being known, seen and heard.

Equity Statement: LACS firmly supports and advocates for the human rights and dignity of all our students, families and colleagues, including refugees, immigrants, women, native peoples, people of color, people with disabilities, people of all faiths, all economic backgrounds, all sexual orientations and gender identities, and people with or without a police record and regardless of citizenship. We believe the integrity of our educational system depends on this explicit action and commitment to equity.