Shawnee Mission’s new ‘Project Finish’ to provide avenue for completing high school diploma

Dr. Joe Gilhaus presented the plans for the new Project Finish high school diploma program to the board of education last week.

Students who don’t earn their high school diploma face a range of challenges when they leave school, from high rates of unemployment to reduced lifetime incomes.

In an effort to mitigate those outcomes, the Shawnee Mission School District is moving forward with a diploma-completion program open to anyone in the area who has passed their expected graduation date and needs more credits to earn their diploma.

The program will be based out of Horizons, the district’s alternative high school.

The board of education last week approved the launch of the district’s new “Project Finish” for this fall. Initially, it will be open to any Shawnee Mission School District area resident. Eventually, organizers say, they intend for the program to be open to anyone without a high school diploma in the state of Kansas.

The primary targets for the program will be students who had been enrolled in a Shawnee Mission High School but didn’t complete the needed credits for a diploma. At present, about 150 high school seniors each year fit that category, said Joe Gilhaus, the district’s director of secondary services — and that group gets big when you tally it up year after year.

“It adds up to an awful lot of people in our community who may not have had the opportunity to complete or get a high school diploma,” Gilhaus said.

The program would be housed at Horizons High School with instruction primarily supported through the Edgenuity online platform already being used in the district. The budget impact of the program, which must be approved by the state, would be minimal to the district, Gilhaus and Horizons Principal Paul Colwell told the board. Next year’s budget already included a position for the instructor who would be the point person for students. They recommended the hiring of a new counselor to help students enroll and tally their credits. That position would cost the district around $85,000 a year in salary and benefits.

The program would be open to anyone past their expected graduation date who lives in the district footprint; people do not have to have been enrolled in Shawnee Mission schools at any point to take part. Students enrolled in Project Finish would need to complete the state minimum 21 credits to receive their diploma.

The district would received $709 in state funding for each credit a Project Finish student completes, up to $4,254 per student per year.