Clayton alternative school gets overhaul

By Greg Gelpi

An overhaul of the Clayton County Alternative School will extend school from noon to 4 p.m., among other changes.

The school system unveiled a comprehensive plan that will be phased-in during the coming months and fully implemented by August.

Assistant Superintendent Luvenia Jackson reviewed the alternative school and identified five areas of concern. She listed professional learning, teaching and learning, organizational structure, student services and the school's staffing and facility as areas she intends to improve.

To address these concerns, the system is lengthening the school day, including a lunch break; adding life skills and behavior management training for students; modifying the curriculum; increasing staff; and adding a counselor, parent liaison and on-site family center to address the academic as well as all aspects of each student.

The school system is also revamping the way in which it tracks students at the alternative school and monitors their progress, according to plans presented by Jackson to the school board.

The overhaul will seek to accomplish five goals as stated by Jackson, including goals of reducing chronic disruptive behavior, providing collaboration between government agencies to increase emotional and social services for students and establishing a process of integrating students back into the traditional classroom setting.

"I know that the alternative school is one of the concerns that the school board has expressed to me," Superintendent Barbara Pulliam said.

In 2001, the state adopted a policy that allowed alternative school programs to hold class for half the duration of a regular school day, which is what Clayton County has been doing.

"Why would we give less time to kids who need more time?" Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske asked. "What the school system is attempting to do in the alternative school is based on sound evidence-based practice to help those children who have issues of delinquent behavior and constant juvenile problems."

Juvenile crime spikes in the hours after school, he said, commending Pulliam and the school administration for taking actions to overhaul the alternative school.

"This is tremendous," Teske said. "I'm in awe of what they're trying to do."

The alternative school was established for students with poor behavior and constant discipline problems, he said. Many of those students are also on probation with the court system. Letting them out of class at noon provides time for unsupervised activity, because many parents are working during the afternoon hours.

"This will help to reduce gang activity," Teske said. "I don't care what anyone tells you. The only thing that works to reduce gang activity is structured supervision and after-school activities."

He went on to say that this is one of many actions by the school system that he applauds.

"I'm beginning to see a lot more attention being focused on these children by the leadership of the current superintendent," Teske said. "That means that [Pulliam] truly believes that no child should be left behind."

The changes also garnered the approval of Michelle Jackson, a Clayton County parent, who has asked the school system to address the length of school for more than a year.

Aspects of the overhaul began being implemented in October, and the complete overhaul is expected to be in place by August.