WJC School Board to Consider Vision for Alt Ed

October 27th, 2009 by Kim Lenz

The Williamsburg-James City County School Board will take a step closer toward developing a vision for alternative education in the school district when its members meet for a work session tonight.

The work session will begin at 7 p.m. in the City Council chambers of the Stryker Building in Williamsburg. The session will also be aired on Channel 47 in Williamsburg and James City County.

Alternative education has been a major concern for board members, administrators and parents for years, even more so since the previous Center for Education Opportunities (CEO) was restructured into the present program, the Academy for Life and Learning (ALL). CEO had accepted at-risk students and short- and long-term suspended or expelled students. ALL now accepts seventh- and eighth-grade students at risk of not succeeding in high school; students with behavioral problems are now sent to Enterprise Academy in Newport News.

Parents and school board members have expressed confidence in the ALL program, but many want to see the program expand to include more students. At tonight’s work session, discussion will focus on addressing two issues raised in the community: how WJCC addresses the needs of short-term suspended students and how the system implemented recommendations from the Community Task Force on Alternative Education.

At a July 14 work session, the school board received a student discipline report revealing there were more than 5,700 primary infractions during the 2008-2009 school year. Further analysis showed almost 4,700 “in-school” responses to those infractions, including lunch detention, in-school suspension and after-school detention. The remaining infractions led to out-of-school suspensions, ranging from the minimum (10 days or less) to the maximum (11 to 365 days).

Executive Director of Student Services Stephen Chantry will present recommendations to the board at the work session tonight. According to the document he will present, several services are available to long-term suspended or expelled students, such as monitoring and assistance from a behavior specialist and home-based instruction. There are currently no formal services for students on short-term suspension, however, except for the opportunity to access assignments.

The lack of services for short-term students is what concerns some community members. Analysis of the 957 short-term suspensions in the discipline report shows 555 of those students were suspended three or fewer times. Forty students received more than three suspensions; out of those 40, five students were failing and not receiving WJCC services.

In his report, Chantry also includes a list of the recommendations received from the Committee Task Force on Alternative Education. The list documents how each recommendation was addressed. Most have been implemented, but some were not and others were modified. For example, a position for a grant writer was approved in the budget, but not filled.  Also, the district was not able to require voluntary admission to the ALL program on referral by a Child Study Team. Instead, the ALL program was modified to provide a voluntary program aiming to help students succeed in high school.

The school board members will also learn the results of surveys asking last year’s senior classes about their feelings toward school, review the district’s policies on environmentally sustainable practices and receive the final enrollment report for this school year.

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