Leaders from Sampson County Schools are revamping its alternative school program to meet the unique needs of students.
Dr. Wesley Johnson, assistant superintendent of instructional services, presented several options for the 2018-2019 school year to Board of Education members, which could save the district money and provide a better experience for students through a virtual program and face-to-face education.
The Charles E. Perry building in Roseboro serves students in the Hobbton, Lakewood, Midway and Union School districts. It costs the district $450,000 to operate the facility. Funds are used to pay for teaching positions, a part-time guidance counselor, a part-time administrative assistant, custodian and director. The monthly expense for lights, water/sewer and natural gas is more than $4,000. While going over costs, Johnson said another issue is transportation and long bus rides throughout the county. He explained the matter by saying that it would take about three hours for a student in the Clement area if they’re in the alternative program.
Johnson also presented numbers showing little to no change in student achievement in subjects such as English Language Arts and math, which showed that one student did well out of 26 students.
“You can see that there’s little to no academic achievement when we send our students to the alternative learning program,” Johnson said.
Along with academics, he added that there’s a potential for discipline issues when at-risk students from different districts are brought to the same campus.
“We have some good kids in the alternative learning program and we have some kids who make some silly mistakes, and they have to be sent to the alternative program” he said. “We had a former teacher that had to serve a year at the alternative program because he made a silly mistake. We have good kids there, but we also have some kids that are at-risk.
“And when you put kids together at one location who are at-risk and they’re not accustomed to going to school, it’s like putting dynamite and hand grenades together. Sometimes it’s going to be an explosion. The potential for discipline issues are there because you bring kids from all four (districts) who had these extremely long bus rides. Someone may have said something to them on the bus that ticked them off.”
Some of the work of Johnson and school officials included a trip to Bladen County, Brunswick and Duplin counties to observe alternative programs. Meeting were also held with Sampson principals and vendors Edgenuity, Apex and eDynamic, which provides Career and Technical Education. Johnson provided possible saving plans by using Edgenuity for $86,000 each year or Apex for more than $94,200. The curriculum based programs help students falling behind. Either choice would save the district about $200,000.
Johnson provided three scenarios. The first was to stay with the current model or do something new. One option was to return students to local schools with separation, which would require more teachers and mobile units. A unit could cost more than $90,000.
The third option was a virtual model with an after-school component. Johnson said some school leaders across the state, believe it could also help dropouts and home-schooled students. The virtual academies could increase enrollment numbers for the district as well. Johnson was in favor of this idea, where each student would receive an HP Stream computer and an Internet box. There was a consensus that it was an essential to provide students with online access and providers with strong signals. Regardless of where they live, Board Chair Tim Register said the responsibility would fall back on the student, even it means visiting the library for the Internet.
“They’re going to have to put forth the effort to get their education,” Register said. “They are the ones who got themselves in trouble to start with.”
Johnson this could morph into an evening academy for someone who had to dropout of school to take care of a child or work to provide income for their family. It could also serve as a facility for home-schooled educators. Currently 300 people in Sampson County are learning at home. The idea would consist of moving the evening academy around and being in a different district each day, to accommodate where students live. Participants would only be required to attend if they failed or need additional help outside of their online courses. Talks also include providing counselors and mental help professionals.
“Some of these students have some unique needs, but it would be a true evening academy that could be used for more students than just discipline related issues,” Johnson said.
Currently 16 students are returning to the alternative program following evaluation. During the year, the average of students at the Perry building is between 25 and 30. Johnson also brought up taxpayers’ dollars and the low academic results.
“That’s the sad part,” board member Telfair Simpson. “We’re spending money, but we’re not getting anything from it.”
Another idea was to use “academy” instead of “alternative.” Mary Brown, board member, said it’s something officials considered. It was mentioned by Brown and Board Member Tracy Dunn that “alternative” comes with negative beliefs. If changes are made, the building could be given to the Town of Roseboro for community events.
Vice Chair Kim Schmidlin made a suggestion to have a program for elementary children with mental health. She received several calls during the year about the difficulty of meeting the need of young children, who may be disruptive in classrooms.
“And we have no alternative for them right now,” Schmidlin said.
Johnson and Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy will look at possible savings by using a new format. Bracy said the district is waiting to get official amounts for alternative and mental health programs from the state.
“We don’t know what that looks like right now,” Bracy said.
Register also emphasized that it’s new territory for the district too and for everyone to take small steps towards developing something new.
“You don’t want to try to solve all the problems at once. This is an alternative school program right now. If we can do a good job with those kids during this coming school year, then we can look at expanding, instead of putting too much on the plate to begin with.”
If it doesn’t work, Register said they could go back to an old plan. There was a consensus among board members to move forward with an official plan and present to the board if a vote is required.
“We have not loss anything, but we certainly have a lot of potential to gain,” Register said.