Alternative schools proposed

First Posted: 1/15/2009

LUMBERTON -- School board members received a proposal outlining two alternative schools at Thursday's special meeting.
The schools would be designed for “at-risk” ninth- through 12th-graders as an alternative to suspension. The proposals said that the schools would serve dropouts, students returning from juvenile court programs or psychiatric hospitals and students “whose learning styles are better served in an alternative setting.”
The long list of possible enrollment qualifications concerned some board members, who did not want the schools turned into a quick fix for below-par students.
“At risk, what does that mean?” asked board member John Campbell. ” At risk of participation in juvenile crime? All of our children are at risk.”
Superintendent Barry Harding said the schools would be a “second-chance opportunity” and wouldn't be for first-time offenders.
The proposed schools, Learning Academy East and Learning Academy West, would each serve three county high schools, with Interstate 95 being the dividing line: Fairmont, Lumberton and St. Pauls students would attend Learning Academy East and Purnell Swett, Red Springs and South Robeson students would attend Learning Academy West.
The eight-classroom schools would be on the campuses of Lumberton Junior High School and Pembroke Middle School.
Board member Patrick Bullard was strongly opposed to the placement of the sites because of the possible interaction with troubled high school students and younger, smaller middle school or junior high school students.
“Before we locate one at Pembroke Middle, I'll go ahead and resign because I'll be unelected if that happens anyway,” Bullard said.
Harding said the middle schools were chosen so the students would be removed from their high school environment, but still placed somewhere with a cafeteria, gym and available bus routes.
While each site would have its own administrator, the middle school principal would also act as the principal of the alternative schools, according to the proposal.
The proposal also outlines enrollments of 100 students per site, with a teacher/student ratio of 1 to 15. Each high school would have a quota of students -- based on its population -- that could be sent to the alternative schools. The alternative sites could also be expanded to accommodate middle school students.
The two sites have an estimated combined cost of $1.2 million.
Superintendent search
The board also approved changes to the application process in the superintendent search, which it discussed at its last meeting. The changes allow for a broader search for a new superintendent, and opening the position to administrators without educational backgrounds.
The board will begin advertising for the position on Monday, a week later than it had planned. The entire timeline for the application process was also pushed back one week. Applications are now due Dec. 17.
Harding's contract expires on June 30, 2003.
About 40,000 surveys for community input on the characteristics that a superintendent should have will go out on Oct. 3. They will be distributed through local newspaper inserts, sent home with students and will also be available at school media centers. The surveys will be due back in 30 days.
The board also discussed proposed construction and improvement projects needed at Robeson County schools. The school system has slightly more than $15 million in unspent construction money: $10 million in bond money; and $5 million in state construction funds.
The board received a list of recommended projects for the various schools, which included items such as paving parking lots, installing air conditioning in gyms and kitchens, upgrading playground equipment, upgrading septic systems to meet state requirements, installing callback systems in classrooms and building storage buildings.
Board members Gloria Lowery and Millicent Nealy were absent.

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