Bibb school board approves alternative program contract

This fall, Bibb County’s over-age high school students and those expelled from their home schools will head to a new Ombudsman alternative program.

The program will be held in two different off-campus sites pending approval from the Macon-Bibb County Planning & Zoning Commission.

Depending on which side of town is closer to them, students enrolled in the program will be sent to either a site in a retail center behind S & S cafeteria on Eisenhower Parkway or an office building at the corner of Riverside Drive and College Street.

The Bibb County school board voted 5-2 Thursday to approve a three-year contract with the national Ombudsman program for 135 students in grades 9-12.

The cost over three years will be $2.17 million.

“We definitely are hoping to see improvement in the student’s attendance rate, a significant increase in the amount of credits they earn toward graduation and improvement in basic reading and math performance,” said Mack Bullard, Bibb’s assistant superintendent for school administration.

Students would take a written academic test when they enter the program, and they would be tested again at the end of the year to evaluate improvements — something they did not get while in the Neel alternative program on Hollis Road.

The new program will require students to attend at least three hours per day from among three different sessions.

Students will be assigned to work stations with state-of-the-art technology and work at their own pace to earn either a Georgia high school diploma or an Ombudsman diploma.

School board members have lobbied for a different alternative program since last year, saying that the previous one wasn’t effective.

“I don’t see this as being the silver bullet that turns the high school graduation rate around,” said board member Tommy Barnes. “It is taking those we failed at and attempting to give them a lifeline.”

Board members Barnes, Susan Middleton, Tom Hudson, Albert Abrams and Lynn Farmer were in favor of the contract, while Susan Sipe and Ella Carter voted against it. Gary Bechtel was absent for the vote.

“I think it’s too much money to invest in a small group of students,” Carter said of her opposition. She said that money could be spent improving programs already at the high schools and for hiring better teachers.

Bullard said the program isn’t costlier, because it calls for spending about $5,200 per student each year, while the system’s average expense for regular students per year is about $7,500. Ombudsman will pay for the office space, technology, books and a director and teachers.

Students who are scheduled to attend the Ombudsman program should receive a letter at their home address in July and be able to attend an open house at the centers during the first week of August, Bullard said.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.