Bulloch County's alternative school, Transitions Learning Center, will soon go from half-day sessions to a full day for each student and will get a counselor. But the Board of Education did not back a request to add a certified math teacher for the program.
The further step of adding a night school was also discussed but was not part of what administrators formally requested, after board members expressed reluctance to fund the daytime expansion. Thursday night's board meeting was the third time the proposal had been presented, but the first time it came to a vote.
TLC Administrator Tim Rountree said he believes the program is good but he wants it to be great.
"We're still trying to break the public perception of alternative education," he said. "I want people to look at this as, it's just another place that kids can go and be successful."
Currently, the alternative school, for students in grades six through 12 referred because of chronic behavior problems or other issues, offers just a half day, 3½ hours of classes, for each student. Some go 8:30 a.m. to noon, others 12:45-4:15 p.m. No lunch is served.
Students work at computers, using Internet-based courses from Edgenuity, previously known as e2020, to learn at their own pace and make up for failed courses.
TLC has three regular education teachers, one each certified in English, science and social studies. But each teaches all of these subjects, as well as math. There is also a special education teacher, but no certified math teacher.
Nor does the program have a counselor, but it will be getting one now.
As of this week, 49 students are enrolled, Rountree said. This was a five-student increase from the last time he spoke to the board. Enrollment usually grows through each semester, peaking in December and May.
As currently set up, the program can serve 61 students in the morning and another 61 in the afternoon. Going to a full day with only the current teachers will reduce the program's capacity to 61students total, instead of 122, according to Rountree.
Adding the math teacher, he projected, would have increased the capacity to 82-84 full-time students.
Half-day sessions ending
When Rountree told the board that he wanted to change the program to a full day for all students effective Oct. 20, Bulloch County Schools Superintendent Charles Wilson clarified this point. Wilson had already directed Rountree to convert to a full-day session, using current faculty and funding, and did not ask the board to vote on this, but only on adding the math teacher and counselor.
"I've said it and I live by it, don't do something if you're not going to do it well and you're not going to do it right, and if we're going to operate a program that serves our students the way it should serve our students, then we're going to have to go full-time with this program," Wilson said.
The TLC day program proposal as presented Thursday had a projected cost of $162,825 for the year, including $75,000 estimated average salary and benefits for a certified counselor and another $75,000 for a certified math teacher, plus smaller costs for a bus monitor and paying a bus driver to deliver lunches because a full-day program means adding lunch in a building - the William James Educational Complex - with no functioning kitchen.
The night school session, which Wilson did not ask support for at this point, had an estimated cost of $25,560.
Board of Education member Mike Herndon said he appreciated Rountree's passionate advocacy for his students, but struggled with the idea of funding the counselor and math teacher when classes are crowded in the regular schools.
"As board members, we hear from teachers, and parents, all the time about overcrowding, classroom size," Herndon said. "All of those people who talk to us are very passionate also about their students getting a good education. So I'm just struggling with, do we have to do this right now?"
Bulloch County Schools in May requested, and obtained for the fifth year, a waiver on class-size limits from the State Board of Education for the 2014-15 school year.
This is also the fifth year that the school system has operated Transitions Learning Center with Rountree in charge. From 2005 until 2010, the board contracted with Ombudsman Educational Services, which used buildings not owned by the school system, for alternative school services. Informal estimates Rountree obtained from an Ombudsman official showed higher costs for Ombudsman to provide a full-day program for 84 students than for the TLC expansion with the teacher and counselor.
Not all were there
Five of the eight board members, barely a quorum, attended the meeting. Board member Steve Hein, as director of the Georgia Southern University Center for Wildlife Education, was wrangling Freedom the eagle in a pregame flight at the GSU-Appalachian State football game. Also absent were Anshul Jain and Vernon Littles, who lost to challengers in the May 20 nonpartisan school board election, but whose terms continue through Dec. 31.
Superintendent Wilson made separate recommendations for adding the counselor and math teacher.
Board member Dr. LeVon Wilson made a motion to seek applications for the counselor job. Board member Cheri Wagner seconded, and the motion passed 4-1, with Herndon opposed.
Wagner made a motion to seek applicants for the certified math teacher's post, but this motion died for lack of a second.
Asked how the program has been able to award credits without a certified math teacher, Rountree said that Edgenuity serves as "teacher of record." He also noted efforts underway through the GSU Math Department to get a tutor to assist with math.
After the meeting, Dr. Levon Wilson said these things factored in his support for hiring a counselor but not a math teacher at this time. The counselor, he said, is much more needed.
"I suspect that any additional personnel changes are not necessarily mandated at this particular point in time, but I'm certainly holding open the option to support that math teacher," Dr. Wilson said. "The good thing is, math is covered."
Although the program will be limited to 61 students for the full day, new procedures being implemented for how students are placed at TLC should reduce the number arriving, said Superintendent Wilson. The new rules require schools to show that a "pyramid of intervention" has been followed, exhausting other options except in the
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.