School board considers expanding alternative education programs

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School board considers expanding alternative education programs

By KATE CERVE kcerve@beaufortgazette.com 843-706-8177
Published Tuesday, April 5, 2011   |  485 Words  |  

Alternative education programs in Beaufort County's public schools could be expanded this fall to give more intense academic support to eighth-graders who are over-age for their grade level because they have been held back.

That would give those students a chance to earn enough high school credits during a year in alternative education to rejoin their class as sophomores and graduate on time, school district officials said Tuesday when they presented the idea to the Board of Education.

The "springboard" program would reduce the dropout rate, said Dee Matthews, the district's director of alternative programs.

Often, students who are over-age for their grade -- perhaps 15 or 16 years old and still in middle school -- become discouraged by previous failures and drop out, she said.

"We want to try to change their emotional outlook on the importance of education," she said. "We want to help them and give them guidance to see the light at the end of the tunnel."

The school district now has two separate alternative education programs.

A program for students with serious criminal violations is housed at the district's Educational Services Center in Beaufort.

Programs for students with lesser disciplinary problems are housed on-site at high schools and in two middle schools. They serve students who are persistently disruptive or have a history of violating school rules.

Tuesday's proposal would add the over-age eighth-graders at risk for academic failure to the school-based alternative education programs. Those students will benefit from the smaller class sizes, lower student-teacher ratios and focus on core academic concepts, Matthews said.

The proposal also includes a similar program to give additional support and credit recovery options to high school students who have earned less than a quarter of the 24 credits required for a diploma by the time they turn 17.

The board will consider and ask questions about the proposal during the next few weeks before voting on it later this month, board chairman Fred Washington Jr. said.

MINORITY STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

The school board on Tuesday gave district officials permission to move forward on a long list of strategies to improve student achievement, with a specific focus on black males.

Strategies include additional teacher training, an increased emphasis on reading comprehension and more summer learning and leadership opportunities for students. Some of the strategies are new, while others are already in place.

The proposal follows a consultant's report the board received in January showing the achievement of black male students lags every other racial category in the district.

Sean Alford, the district's instructional services chief, said details and a timeline for implementation will be refined over the next few months and the proposal will return to the board for final approval this summer.