One month into a three-month task, the Alternative Education Community Advisory Committee for the Muscogee County School Board has released a progress report.
Tollie Strode Jr., the committee’s chairman, emphasized to the Ledger-Enquirer that this summary of recommendations is a draft and won’t be finalized until the committee presents its report to the board in September.
The tentative recommendations are the result of two full committee meetings and several meetings of two subcommittees. One subcommittee focuses on special-needs students; the other focuses on students with discipline problems.
Strode said during the committee’s meeting last week that the goal is to present the board with no more than six overall recommendations but the written report will include all of the committee’s recommendations, which totaled more than 30 then.
In this summary Strode provided the L-E, he divided the recommendations into three areas: policy, resourcing and education/training.
▪ Standardize incident reporting and data entry at schools, tracking, accountability and enforcement.
▪ Consistently implement school climate surveys.
▪ Eliminate academic penalties in disciplinary action (discipline that causes students to miss instruction and course assignments, therefore fall behind academically).
▪ Fully comply with local, state and federal requirements.
▪ Improve classroom resources and personnel to address special-need and behavior-risk students and ensure teachers are supported to focus on instruction.
▪ Improve and support enhancements for the AIM (Achievement, Integrity and Maturity) Program at the Edgewood Student Services Center.
▪ Synchronize resources and policies where they overlap while serving special-need and behavior-risk students.
▪ Deploy resources (trained and certified personnel, as well as parapros, social workers and counselors) to address issues on the front end before they become problems in the classroom.
▪ Increase training frequency to sustain teachers' classroom management skills and improve their performance.
▪ Increase training frequency to sustain teacher and administration implementation of world-class alternative education in schools.
▪ Increase and sustain the number and availability of alternative-education skilled personnel in schools using various approaches and methods.
▪ Establish accessible and comprehensive education for parents to provide a standardized view of MCSD programs, policies and resources available to support their special-need or behavior-risk student.
Kia Chambers, the board’s vice chairwoman, proposed forming the advisory committee as part of her prevailing substitute motion April 10 to delay for three months voting on superintendent David Lewis’ controversial recommendation in March to hire Camelot Education, a private, for-profit company based in Austin, Texas, to run three alternative education programs in the Muscogee County School District for $6.4 million annually.
The programs would have been housed in the former Marshall Middle School and would have served three student groups:
▪ Students with severe discipline code violations, now being served in the AIM Program at the Edgewood Student Services Center).
▪ Students with severe emotional or behavioral problems, now being served in the Woodall Program at Davis Elementary and Carver High.
▪ Over-age and under-credited students, who aren’t being served in any MCSD program.
The board, however, didn’t wait three months. In another split vote, the board put the recommendation back on the table May 15 and voted it down. The board then appointed the advisory committee members in June.
Strode insists the committee’s work must be about more than whether hiring Camelot is a good idea.
“We have a comprehensive process, and our work pursues the establishment of sustainable policies, enabling processes and protocols, infrastructure and resources, including personnel, that achieve a world-class alternative education system,” Strode told the L-E in an email. “Our charge and effort are broader than a decision about a third-party service provider.
“Our team is looking at the entire alternative education system in the school district, acknowledging gaps in its administration, and providing the school board recommendations to resolve those issues. By doing so, we believe that many of the challenges faced are fixed. Remaining issues are addressed by capabilities that are already present in the school district.”
During the board’s monthly meeting Monday night, superintendent David Lewis, whom the board hired in July 2013 from Polk County, Fla., where he was an associate superintendent, said, “We’re about a decade behind in special education. We’re making strides. We’re not where we want to be, but we’re not where we used to be.”
The board appointed the following residents to the committee:
▪ District 1: Carolyn Randolph, former educator.
▪ District 2: Nathan Smith, bill collector.
▪ District 3: Olive Vidal-Kendall, Columbus Technical College director of counseling and special services.
▪ District 4: Marjorie Barker Jackson, educator.
▪ District 5: Jamie Battles, first-grade teacher at Clubview Elementary School.
▪ District 6: Bart Steed, owner of Kar-Tunes Car Stereo, former MCSD board candidate.
▪ District 7: Mike Edmondson, retired teacher (resigned due to scheduling conflicts, Strode said).
▪ District 8: David Young, parent of a special-needs child (replaced Sarah Beecham Powell, former associate vice president at Columbus Technical College, who resigned due to scheduling conflicts, Strode said).
▪ Countywide: Tollie Strode Jr., former Army officer.
▪ At-large: Waleisah Wilson, founder and president of NewLife-Second Chance Outreach Inc., a nonprofit organization helping former inmates transition back into the Columbus community.
▪ At-large: Marianne Young, vice president of the Arnold Magnet Academy PTA and mother of a special-needs student.
▪ At-large: Charles Redd, field program specialist for Region 8 of the Georgia Division of Family & Children Services.
▪ At-large: J.A. Hud, director of Project Rebound, which facilitates psychosocial development for those disrupted by social conditions.
▪ At-large: The Rev. Ralph Huling, president of the local Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and pastor of St. James Missionary Baptist Church in Columbus and New Hope Baptist Church in Lumpkin.
▪ At-large: Lisa Jenkins, mother of a special-needs student (resigned because “I realize I would not make any impact on said committee,” Jenkins wrote to Chambers and board chairwoman Pat Hugley Green. The L-E asked Jenkins why, but she didn’t answer before deadline.)
▪ At-large: Tonza Thomas, Columbus NAACP chapter president.