09/22/12 — Officials look at facts on alternative school

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Officials look at facts on alternative school

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 22, 2012 11:41 PM

Ideally, districts would not need alternative schools for students struggling with issues related to discipline, behavior and attendance.

But other factors also necessitate the option, officials say -- a state mandate requiring public schools to operate such a school, and the pool of students who voluntarily go there.

"Wayne County has been in the alternative school business for a relatively long time," said Allison Pridgen, director of student support services.

Wayne County Public Schools already had two in the district, Belfast Academy and Southern Academy, prior to the state mandate being put into place. The schools consolidated in 2009, becoming Wayne Academy, which is now located at the former Goldsboro Intermediate School.

Mrs. Pridgen, along with Wayne Academy administrators -- Carole Battle, principal, and Alan Williams, assistant principal -- appeared before the Wayne County Board of Education earlier in the month to provide "discipline data" on the spring semester of last year.

"This past year, we had a large number of policies with regard to discipline (for the district), 33 to be exact," Mrs. Pridgen said. "These policy revisions have impacted our schools, particularly Wayne Academy, in a very positive manner."

Students in grades 6 to 12 wind up at the school through a variety of circumstances, Ms. Battle said. They can be transferred voluntarily or involuntarily or placed there by the superintendent's recommendation. Typical reasons are behavior, a threat to the safety of others, or legal or criminal charges prompting removal from the base school.

Ms. Battle said last year 247 students were enrolled and 156 withdrew, either by returning to their home school in the county or transferring elsewhere.

Seventy-four, she said, were considered dropouts -- 46 due to attendance and of the remaining 28, nine enrolled in community college, 10 were jailed in adult facilities, eight never re-enrolled and one had a long-term suspension.

Demographics at the school range from 42 12-year-olds on up to one 21-year-old, Ms. Battle said. The majority are in the middle school grades. The ratio of male to female is 171 to 67 and by race, 144 are African-Americans, 59 are white, 34 are Hispanic and 10 multi-cultural.

"At Wayne Academy, we have good students," Ms. Battle said. "We have our challenges like all schools do, but we're committed to making it a better place. They have a right to be taught, and we try to make sure that we do it in a safe and orderly environment."

Board member Len Henderson had some concerns about the report.

"It appears to me that the biggest problem that we have as far as Wayne County appears to be at the middle school area," he said.

"That's a problem in every school, yes," Ms. Battle said.

Henderson referenced the fact that of the 247 students enrolled, 180 of them were middle school students.

"What are we doing to try to make sure that we decrease those numbers?" Henderson asked.

Ms. Battle said she is "on the receiving end," as students are sent to her school.

"Ms. Battle doesn't go out and recruit them," board member Thelma Smith said. "Some of these questions need to be asked of the principals in the schools. It sounds like we're trying to blame the alternative school."

Henderson said it was not his intent to blame anyone, but that he was operating in line with district Policy 3470, which states there are "specific types of questions that this board should be asking."

Mrs. Pridgen said referrals are not based upon age, race or gender, but rather on where principals believe a student might benefit from the alternative school environment.

"Ms. Battle and Mr. Williams spend a lot of time working with them to be able to return (to their home school) at the end of that nine weeks," she said. High school, she added, is different, as it is more beneficial for them to finish a complete semester.

Henderson asked the major reasons for student referrals. Mrs. Pridgen said it is usually attendance, discipline or academic issues, but could also be repeated infractions, including short- or long-term suspensions.

For some, she added, the smaller environment of an alternative school proves beneficial.

"It seems that we have more success sometimes with the alternative schools, so that when they return to that school they know what to do, they know where they erred and what they have to do to be successful," Mrs. Pridgen said.

"I know that in the past, we have had some high school students request that they come back to alternative school because of the small learning environment," board member Rick Pridgen said. "What about middle school?"

"Yes, once students have been at the alternative school and have seen how successful they can be in a small environment, they yearn to go back to the small environment, and can go back with parent request," Mrs. Pridgen said, answering her husband's question.

"Wayne Academy is not a prison and it's not a bad place," Ms. Battle said. "You can be sent there by request ... alternative school is a wonderful place where students can get a second chance.

"We do believe in helping children and I just want the students to feel better about themselves. We do have some challenges, we do, but all schools do."