Bibb to start new high school disciplinary program

More than a year ago, Bibb County school board members got fed up that their most violent students were being sent to an alternative school alongside pupils who were there for one-time infractions.

The one-size-fits-all approach used at Neel Alternative school since 1984 has produced dismal learning results: a 34 percent graduation rate this past school year, for example, and the fact that nearly half of Neel’s students have been through the program at least twice.

Now, after research and visits to other school systems looking for more effective programs, the Bibb school board Thursday approved allowing Superintendent Sharon Patterson to negotiate a contract to start an Ombudsman program this coming fall. It’s a national program for students with discipline problems.

The length of the contract and cost to the system haven’t been determined yet, Patterson said.

Some funds could come from economic stimulus money and some from the general fund.

“We were losing kids left and right,” board member Susan Middleton said. “This is a whole different approach.”

Currently, Bibb students are sent to the Neel campus on Hollis Road if they commit more serious level four offenses, such as drug possession or theft, and are referred there after an evidentiary hearing. The school serves about 220 of Bibb’s 24,500 students.

Under the Ombudsman initiative, Bibb’s over-age high school students and its most violent ones who have been expelled or suspended from their home school will now attend the new program.

As many as 135 students in grades nine-12 could attend as many as four hours per school day through a day or evening online course. Students can get a high school diploma through the Ombudsman program, which school officials said is accredited and accepted by colleges and employers.

The program in Bibb would be housed at one or two off-campus sites, such as a retail shopping center or mall. Transportation would not be provided by the system, but would be accessible by city public bus routes.

According to school officials, the program has a 10-to-1 student-teacher ratio. Students are assigned to individual workstations with state-of-the-art technology, where they work at their own pace.

School systems in Paulding, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Fulton, among others, use the program, which Ombudsman officials say has an 85 percent success rate.

“We establish a partnership so we act as specialists to work with nontraditional learners,” said Phyllis Lucia, vice president of development for the Ombudsman program. “We believe students learn best when they have control over their learning and are accountable for their actions.”

This fall, the school system plans to end its nine-12 alternative program at Neel and use it solely for unruly middle-schoolers.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.