I have long believed that Columbia County’s school system should do more to take advantage of its alternative school.
With one baby step, it’s headed in that direction.
School board members gave a thumb’s up recently to continuing a pilot program called SOS – Save Our Seniors – that started this past semester.
The program targets fifth-year seniors, students who didn’t graduate with their classmates and are most at risk of dropping out. As the state’s recent graduation rates show, we obviously need to improve the number of graduates, and such programs are a good way to start.
SOS allows a few fifth-year seniors from each of the county’s five public high schools to attend the Columbia County Alternative School for half a day, and fill gaps in their graduation requirements via Internet courses.
The students are supervised by graduation coaches borrowed from the other schools as they use the alternative school tech lab. The only cost to the system is gas money for those counselors to drive to the school.
The alternative school’s principal, Dr. Ja’net Bishop, recently gave a status report on the SOS program’s pilot to the school board. During her presentation, a couple of things were clear: One, as Superintendent Charles Nagle says, Bishop can talk faster than anyone else can think. You can almost see the gears spinning. Second, the idea for SOS is just the tip of the iceberg.
So far, of the 11 students in the pilot period, all have graduated or are expected to graduate this summer. That might not sound like much until you consider those 11 students likely would have quit school altogether.
As Lauren Swearingen, Grovetown High School’s graduation coach, told trustees, “We were just amazed at the success of these students that others had given up on, or who had given up on themselves.”
Yet even with the OK to keep the program going, the biggest limit thus far is the easiest to fix: The size of the alternative school’s tech lab, which is at capacity with 24 computers.
“We don’t have the physical space to expand beyond that 24,” Bishop says. “But if we did, I’d say ‘go for it.’”
Yes, we should.
Whenever I’ve pondered the idea of expanding the alternative school, it’s always been with an eye toward creating a “reverse-magnet” concept. While Richmond County loves to point to the success of their two magnet high schools, they ignore the damage to the county’s other schools when the best students are siphoned off.
We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that Davidson and A.R. Johnson have 100 percent graduation rates, while fewer than half of the students at Glenn Hills, Josey and Laney get diplomas on time, or at all. Richmond County’s donor schools send their best students to the magnet schools, depriving themselves of their best role models. It’s a dropout death spiral.
A reverse magnet school would allow struggling students to receive more focused attention, while getting them out of classrooms where they’re more likely to act out than to excel.
The SOS program doesn’t specifically do that, yet. But as proof of concept, it’s a good start. More, please.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email barry.paschal@newstimes online.com, or call 706-863-6165, extension 106. Follow at twitter.com/