Conceding that the alternative education system is not working, the Clarksdale Municipal School District Board of Trustees has agreed to hire Ombudsman to take over the Thomas E. Shaw School of Excellence for the 2011-2012 school year.

“What we have now is not working,” Superintendent Dennis Dupree said Wednesday at a special school meeting at Kirkpatrick Elementary. The board holds meetings periodically at an area school rather than conventionally at the central offices.

The board took its action after hearing from Lisa Chitty, a senior vice president at Ombudsman, a Nashville, Tenn., company that offers an alternative approach to working with students who are not succeeding in a traditional middle or high school setting.

“Our program works with 100 percent of at-risk students,” Chitty said. “We have an 85 percent graduation rate.”

Ombudsman works with students who have either dropped out of school or at risk of dropping out because of credit deficiency, personal challenges, truancy, suspension, expulsion, learning disabilities or family obligations.

“At Ombudsman, students can succeed no matter their obstacles in life,” Chitty said. “We give them hope by showing the students there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Asked how expensive the program would be for the district, Dupree said it would actually cost less than the present system and operate on a one-year renewable contract starting in August.

Chitty said that while Ombudsman was new to Mississippi, the organization has been around since 1975 and that the company focuses on positive motivation to reach students who were not succeeding in the traditional classroom setting.

The company can arrange flexible hours at off-campus sites, night and summer school. While Ombudsman’s goal is to render the kind of education necessary for advancement, the program does not graduate students early. A high school diploma received through Ombudsman would be acceptable to the state because the company is fully certified.

Other business:

  • Kirkpatrick Principal Suzanne Walton announced that the school had been approved for a $37,000 grant for a walking trail from Mississippi Blues Cross and Blue Shield.
  • The board approved the Junior ROTC Lock-In for April 29-30 and the Junior ROTC Physical Fitness Challenge for May 13.
  • The trustees agreed to a Memorandum of Understanding between CMSD and the Teach for America Institute.

Larry E. Binz is a reporter for the Press Register and can be reached at 662-627-2201 or at