As Columbia County's alternative school hits its 10-year mark, it's understandable that the school's mission could be due for a review.
But it's also clear that some school officials have forgotten the philosophy that created Crossroads Academy. Before they torpedo a good program, those officials should work harder to understand the alternative school -- and do more to support it.
From the day Crossroads opened in 1995, it has been a proverbial redheaded stepchild in the school system. It started in leased quarters on Davis Road, bounced to a shameful fenced stalag of antiquated portable buildings next to the county's bus shop on Columbia Road, and this year shuffled to a decrepit building in Grovetown that once housed secondary school system offices.
In spite of its substandard accommodations, Crossroads has yielded admirable results. Students given disciplinary referrals to attend the school receive individualized attention from some of the county's most dedicated educators. The students' grades and attitudes generally are much improved by the time they earn their way back to their home schools.
Sadly, the program's success has led some observers to reach a wrongheaded conclusion: Because students often flourish in the program, even to the point of wanting to stay there longer than their "sentence," some school officials believe Crossroads isn't punitive enough.
"The whole purpose of Crossroads is to be a deterrent to bad behavior," says School Board Chairman Regina Buccafusco, who wants to make the school more like a boot camp -- even down to stripping the word "academy" from its name because, she says, "it sounds like a preferred environment."
That attitude disappoints Crossroads' first principal, Meryl Alalof, who helped mold the school as a nurturing environment for children with problems. The school, its academic programs, even its name were crafted by a collaborative team whose recommendations were supported by the school board, Alalof points out.
Crossroads provided a true alternative in disciplinary cases from the day it opened. Prior to Crossroads, students were either sent to in-school suspension programs, or kicked out of school -- the latter, often, to unsupervised environments.
With Crossroads available, there was another way: tighter supervision, temporary isolation from regular schools and improved academic attention.
That's why comments such as those from the usually reasonable Buccafusco are so troubling. Does anyone really believe Crossroads can get wayward students back on the right track if the program is rigged to make those students hate being there?
Amazingly, just a few months ago, school officials talked about expanding Crossroads to students with academic trouble, not just discipline problems. That's a far better approach than the foolish idea of turning the school into a concentration camp.
In spite of the chronic lack of support given to Crossroads Academy, Columbia County's school system has benefitted greatly from the alternative school -- as have most students who have gone through the program.
School officials should reject any plan that would treat those children like throwaways. And quit treating Crossroads like a throwaway school.
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