Jackson-Madison County Schools and Ombudsman have partnered to create Bridge Academy, a program to help students graduate on time from high school.
An informational day for parents and students will be held from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dec. 9 at 180 Old Hickory Blvd.

Bridge Academy is scheduled to open on Jan. 4. There will be openings for 60 students from Jackson Central-Merry Academy of Medical Technology and Liberty Technology high schools.

Both schools have been working to increase graduation rates but have been on the Tennessee Department of Education’s list for failing to meet the goal.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, all high schools should have 100 percent of their students graduating by 2014.

The school district is using federal Race to the Top money to pay for Bridge Academy.

Deputy superintendent Doris Battle said the district has budgeted $1.2 million for the program.

A contract agreement has been signed with Ombudsman, and the program will cost $5,650 per student and $170,000 for the spring semester.

“The whole purpose of the program is to positively impact the graduation rates at Liberty and JCM,” Battle said. “This is an opportunity and not a punishment for students.”

A student who would be a good fit for Bridge Academy would be a student who is overage for his grade level and lacks enough credits to graduate with his cohort, or classmates.

The program will give students more one-on-one and individualized instruction, officials said.

Students who choose to attend would still be able to attend their home school’s prom and graduation ceremonies.

“We’ve got to be proactive,” Battle said. “Due to No Child Left Behind and its benchmarks, we have to do something. We have a number of students that are overage for their grade level.”

Students can select a morning or afternoon session, Battle said. They also will be required to complete community service and will learn career skills such as résumé writing and job preparation.

Four teachers and a director will be assigned to the Bridge Academy.

Ombudsman will be responsible for the hiring, but the teachers will meet Jackson-Madison County and state standards of being highly qualified and certified to teach.

Families of potential students may ask questions and tour the facility during the information day on Dec. 9.

“We’re optimistic that students and families will want to come,” Battle said.

But if a student and family are less than enthusiastic, Battle said a student could be assigned to attend Bridge Academy.

“The superintendent has the authority to place a student there,” she said. “But we want students and families to be open to this (program).”
Battle also said the district plans to continue other programs that prevent students from falling behind.

“We will continue with credit recovery, intervention programs, after-school tutoring, teacher mentoring students and the ‘Power of I,'” Battle said. The “Power of I,” or incomplete, is an initiative the district is using to encourage students to complete their work.

Earlier this year, the district considered using Ombudsman to operate its alternative high school, West Jackson Learning Center. The school is for students who have had behavioral problems at their assigned schools.

However, the board voted down the proposal down.

The implementation of the Bridge Academy and partnership with Ombudsman did not require board approval, school officials said.

Paula Reed, Educational Services of America vice president of business development, said the program offers students a chance to succeed outside of the traditional classroom setting. Ombudsman is a part of Educational Services of America.

“This is a partnership with the district,” said Reed during a telephone interview with The Jackson Sun on Tuesday. “We are not a separate entity, and we’re not a charter school.”

Reed said the teachers would have an intensive two-week training before the program begins and would participate in the district’s professional development days.

“The students remain on the district’s rolls,” Reed said. “Our success is the district’s success.”