Academic Success Center to close

By a 7-2 vote Monday evening, the Muscogee County School Board approved reprioritizing the list of projects voters approved in 2009.

The domino effect of that action will eliminate the Academic Success Center, starting next school year. The alternative school serves students in grades 8-12 who are at least one year behind academically. The current enrollment is 226.

Academic Success, housed in the Daniel Center on Manchester Expressway, is among the projects that will be eliminated or deferred to help make up for the expected shortfall of $40 million in the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and allow the district to build an arts academy for an estimated $30 million. The original SPLOST list totals $223,155,784.

Naomi Buckner and James Walker are the board members who voted against the controversial recommendation from interim superintendent John Phillips Jr. The board tabled the vote last week to gather more information and feedback.

Monday, Phillips outlined the district's transition plan to accommodate the Academic Success Center's students back at their home schools. The plan includes various credit recovery programs already offered at the district's high schools. The ASC students will be assigned a social worker to help them with the transition. Weekly meetings will be conducted and documented to track the students' progress.

"We want these parents to let us know right away if there are problems their child is having so we can intervene," Phillips said.

In March and April, the ASC will develop a customized graduation plan for each student to follow back at their home school. The students and their parents will be invited to a May meeting that will address their concerns.

"They'll feel wanted and cared for," Phillips said.

Phillips added that he was so impressed with his staff's plan, "We need this plan for every child."

Board member Pat Hugley Green asked Phillips to make sure the board receives periodic reports about the ASC students' progress back at their home schools.

Board member John Wells noted that the ASC never was designed to have students stay in the alternative program from eighth grade to 12th grade.

Board member Beth Harris concurred and said, "I find it difficult to believe that as large a system as we are and as good as the teachers we have in our schools, you couldn't take 40, 60, 80 students in these schools and find at least one person to take care of all of them. You can't just keep telling children to take your time. That's not advancing."

Buckner juxtaposed the arts academy project against the ASC and said the proposal accommodates arts students over struggling students.

Board member Mark Cantrell said, "It's not the money that we're saving; it's the children that we're saving out there. Our trust and their trust is going to make sure Dr. Phillips and everyone else does what you say you're going to do."

Harris said the ASC is "a little bit of hand-holding, and you do need to put them back in the real world."

Cantrell objected to deferring the $1 million renovation of Jordan High School's auditorium to help pay for the arts academy. "Jordan has the worst auditorium in Columbus, Georgia," he said. " We need to make sure things are fixed before you build something brand new."

After the meeting, Nate Sanderson, local chapter president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, questioned the board's priorities.

"They put bricks and mortar over taking care of students," he said. "The program they are ending is helping students not be part of the criminal process. For them not to understand that, it is really disappointing."

The $17,756,250 worth of projects the board voted to eliminate are:

$6,725,000 to renovate the 29th Street facility housing the shop program for the Academic Success Center.

$6,075,000 for a new adult education building on the Daniel Center site, the Manchester Expressway building that also houses the Rose Hill program for middle school students with disciplinary problems.

$4,956,250 to renovate the Academic Success part of Daniel.

The vote also includes deferring $19,568,977 in the following projects:

$7,000,000 for a system-wide gym at Fort Middle School.

$5,000,000 for technology.

$3,000,000 for a system-wide athletics facility.

$2,633,977 for furniture fixtures and equipment.

$1,000,000 for Jordan High's auditorium.

$935,000 for security equipment.