The Natchez-Adams School District will soon partner with a Chicago-based company to operate the Central Alternative School.
The decision, which was approved Thursday at a school board meeting, will save the district approximately $150,000 and provide more options for students in the district, Superintendent Frederick Hill said.
“We normally tend to put the least amount of resources and attention on alternative schools, and that’s not something we want to do here,” Hill said Friday. “We want to create a viable program for those students who need a non-traditional approach to education in an alternative setting.”
Ombudsman Educational Services will operate their program within the school — hiring its own faculty and staff and providing all technological and learning materials.
Ombudsman Vice President Lisa Chitty gave a presentation to board members at an earlier May school board meeting saying their program was fully customizable to what the district wants to provide.
“We’re a very flexible organization and do what’s best for students,” Chitty said. “We want to do this side by side and do what’s great for kids.”
Board member Thelma Newsome said she was ready to see what the company could offer the district.
“I’m excited about this move because I know this is something (Hill) looked into very thoroughly, and because of the fact we have not seemed to been able to reach those children that we’re serving at the alternative school,” Newsome said. “I’m hoping we will see some great things.”
The program uses a blended learning model, which combines one-on-one classroom instruction with online content and instruction.
The curriculum the company uses is aligned to Mississippi state standards, Chitty said, as well as Common Core standards, which are a set of nationally adopted standards the district must implement by the 2014-2015 school year.
The program also offers students an opportunity to earn an accredited Ombudsman diploma if they choose not to graduate from the school district.
The company is accredited by AdvancED, a non-profit, non-governmental organization that accredits primary and secondary schools through the U.S. and internationally. The organization was formerly known as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and is the same company that accredits the district.
Hill said one benefit to outsourcing the alternative school, other than the cost savings, was that the district could redesign the alternative school’s function.
“One of the perceptions I want to change about the alternative school is that it’s just for disciplinary reasons, because it’s also for social and academic (issues) as well,” Hill said.
Having a process in place where students who feel like a smaller environment would work best for them can transfer to the school would be a possibility, Hill said.
Students in Natchez schools would be referred to Ombudsman by their individual school. The student would follow a specific instructional approach decided upon by the company and district officials, Chitty said.
“It’s essentially a program within your district, which means they’re not our students, they’re your students,” Chitty said. “When a student is assessed, we can decide what’s best for the student and provide individual and group instruction to help them succeed.”
The 15 district’s current Central employees, which includes nine teachers, would be spread into vacancies across the district, Hill said.
The contract does require, however, the district provide a custodian as well as pay utilities for the building.
All the current employees will be given the opportunity to interview for their same positions at Central, but would then be employees of Ombudsman and not the school district, Hill said.
As of Friday, Hill said he had identified available vacancies for all the current Central employees except for two that he needed to examine further.
Hill told Central teachers and staff of the changes Friday.
Principal Edward Reed, who has been leading the school for seven years, said he trusted the district’s decision.
“I’m confident that whatever decisions the district made will be in the best interest of the students,” Reed said. “I will miss the school, but change is a big part of education and that’s all this is — change.”
Hill said school board attorney Bruce Kuehnle was in final discussions with Ombudsman regarding the contract and that he would likely sign it next week. The company would take over the school shortly after and begin the process of interviewing and hiring personnel for the school.