VALDOSTA — The Ombudsman Program — the Valdosta City School System’s solution to alternative education — held its first day of classes in its own facility on Monday.
At the May 14 Valdosta Board of Education meeting, the board voted to enter into a partnership with Ombudsman for the 2012-2013 school year.
“It’s on a contract basis and its a one-year contract,” said Ombudsman operations manager for the South Georgia region Arnold Wright.
Ombudsman, a self-proclaimed “alternative route” for education, is a program that provides a different path to the traditional high school graduation. It targets middle and high school students who have been kicked out of school or who could benefit from a non-traditional classroom setting.
“The objective is to get them on track so they can get a Valdosta City Schools’ diploma,” said Wright.
Ombudsman has approximately 120 schools nation wide in 20 states and between 45 to 50 schools in Georgia. They have nationwide accreditation and have a success rate of more than 93 percent.
“Across South Georgia, we’ve been really successful,” said Wright.
With the objective of keeping kids in school, students can be referred to Ombudsman from a school within the system or can even come to the facility after they have dropped out of the city school system.
Students come to Ombudsman with the goal of returning to their home schools; however, if for whatever reason that is not able to happen, students may get a high school diploma from Ombudsman.
“We’re like a private school,” said Wright.
Being SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools) accredited, a diploma from Ombudsman is like a diploma from Valdosta High School and is not a GED (General Education Development) diploma.
There are currently around 60 students enrolled at Ombudsman in Valdosta and that number will be around 100 by the end of the semester.
There are three sessions of classes. The first session is from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. for 30 middle school students. The second session is from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. for another 30 middle school students. The last session is from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. for 40 high school students.
“There’s a director and four teachers for the daytime and a director and three teachers at night,” said Wright.
The middle school director is Antwan Hardy and the high school director is Julia McKissack. According to Wright, all teachers were hired locally and have an advantage when working with students because of the low student-teacher ratio.
With only six to seven students per teacher, teachers are able to work on a more individualized teaching program with each student.
“A lot of different teaching strategies can be used,” said Wright.
While the main curriculum is a computer-based format, teachers also work with students in a classroom format when remediation or clarification is needed. Teachers also run on a team concept.
“By using a team of teachers… Out of that team of teachers, at least one teacher is going to connect with every kid,” said Wright.
Upon entering Ombudsman, every student is tested on various topics.
From that test, an individualized learning plan is created which focuses on areas where students need remediation. The learning environment is then created around each student’s testing deficiencies.
While Ombudsman is about getting back on track academically, Wright stated that a big part of what they do is teach kids how to interact in a traditional school setting.
“It’s kind of like learning to go to school,” said Wright. “It’s a trust thing; we need to build the trust of the student in the educational process.”
With the student’s academic needs at the forefront of their mission, Ombudsman has what they call a clean slate policy.
“Whenever a student comes to us, their slate is clean,” said Wright.
Their past disciplinary problems will not burden them at Ombudsman. No teacher will have a preconceived notion of any student, which allows every student to come in and be able to focus strictly on their education.
“That gives them time to reset,” said Wright. “I think they appreciate that because the teachers don’t have any preconceived notions.”
Rules at Ombudsman are also different from rules at the city school system. While they utilize the same dress code, they don’t establish the same attendance or disciplinary policies because the goal is to keep the student in school.
“Our disciplinary code is on an individual instance, case-by-case basis,” said Wright. “The objective is to keep them in school.”
While Ombudsman students began class last Wednesday with the rest of the school system, they were housed at a room in the Valdosta Early College Academy awaiting renovations to be completed at the new facility at 1200 N. Ashley Street. All structural and technological improvements are finished, which allowed them to utilize the facility on Monday, but cosmetic changes still need to be made. Within the next couple of weeks, new awnings will be placed, the parking lot will be striped and the outside of the building will be re-painted.
A new venture for the Valdosta City School system, Ombudsman is a work in progress for students who would otherwise not have an opportunity to complete their education.