We have heard the concerns of our parents, teachers, and community regarding discipline within the District and are working to develop a Discipline Task Force that will review safety and discipline procedures in the District. This task force will begin meeting this month and will continue to meet throughout the next school year, and will report its findings and recommendations to me. In the meantime, we are also working to implement three local alternative learning centers for the 2012-2013 school year that will ensure not only the safety of staff and students throughout the District, but will also provide a safe, warm, and academically challenging environment for the students placed in these alternative learning centers.
There will be a high school, middle school, and elementary school alternative learning center. Data suggest that we have a greater need for the high school and middle school alternative learning environments, but we want to provide principals at the elementary level with an alternative place for students who may require wrap-around services and additional support. The three schools selected to house alternative learning centers - Barden Elementary, Bloomfield Middle, and Northeast High schools - were chosen because they are schools within our District that are currently under-enrolled and have additional space required to support an alternative learning environment.
For example, at Northeast High School we know that the Mark Smith building is not being used to its fullest potential. It is a building that is easy to modify because it is already separated or sectioned off and would easily support a separate entrance, keeping the school’s general education population apart from students in the alternative learning environment. This location will require minimum renovation to allow buses to drop off students in the alternative learning center on the other side of the Mark Smith building. This again would ensure that students attending the alternative learning center located at the school would never have contact with the students enrolled in the general education population there.
Bloomfield Middle School currently already houses an alternative learning environment in the form of the Ombudsman program. It has the capacity to hold an alternative learning center while requiring minimum renovation for additional classroom space. We will also have an opportunity for a separate entrance into this alternative learning site without disrupting the general student population.
Finally, Barden does not currently use all of its classrooms in one section of the building. It is our plan to renovate a number of rooms there, providing office space for the administration, and a dining area for the students. This school, too, will have the capacity for a separate entrance on a different side of the building in order to keep alternative and general population students from interacting with each other.
Soon, we are going to look for exceptional teachers and staff who will want to work at the alternative schools. The only difference in these facilities will be the additional wrap-around services to support students that are having difficulties. We are here to help our children, and offering these services is the most important piece of our alternative learning environments.
What excites me most about the development of three alternative learning centers is that I know students with social and emotional issues will not just be placed in front of a computer to play and not be taught. Instead, they will receive services that will help them become better citizens. Students placed in alternative learning environments should not be thought of as something lesser than; instead, their academic learning environment should be equal to that of regular students while providing them with the clinical help they may need. Students will learn in an environment that is just as rigorous and guarantees them that we stick to our important mission, which is strength of character and that all students are college ready. That should not be differentiated whether a student is in an alternative school or whether they are in a general education environment in our District.