The Union Recorder

July 12, 2013

BOE explores options to increase graduation rate

Vaishali Patel
The Union-Recorder

MILLEDGEVILLE — The Baldwin County Board of Education is continuing to explore options to increase the graduation rate and decrease dropout rates. 

During the school board’s work session Monday, a representative of an alternative school program explained how the company could provide resources and services to help the district meet its goals and advance students’ skill levels.

Ombudsman Educational Services Senior Vice President of Business Development Phyllis Lucia said the company can provide an on-site or off-site learning center for at-risk students in grades six through 12, which can be more flexible than the school’s current alternative programming. Ombudsman learning centers are an extension of the public school system, meaning students are still accounted for on the district’s roster.

“Ombudsman can create a different learning environment. Students referred to the program are given a fresh start; because of their poor attendance, are over-aged, behind in credits, discipline problems or are expelled, we evaluate the student and determine where remediation is needed along their path of high school graduation,” Lucia said. “Our goal is to bring students closer to grade level so they can return back to their classroom and continue toward graduation.” 

Ombudsman can offer students a more flexible learning schedule to accommodate their needs outside of the classroom. Compared to a traditional classroom setting, students also learn in a smaller environment with a low student-to-teacher ratio using a blended learning model, which includes technology in addition to teacher instruction.

“We’re able to accommodate individual lesson plans for each student. Since a lot of these students have adult responsibilities, Ombudsman helps them increase attendance so essentially the school district moves forward,” Lucia said. “One hundred percent of students are at-risk of dropping out of school; we have a success rate of about 80 to 85 percent, which means students graduate, return back to their district school closer to or at grade level, increase attendance or earn credits.”

School board member Lyn Chandler of District 3 said he believes the Baldwin school system “needs some form of alternative education for our at-risk children, what format that will take I’m not sure.”

“When the Midway Center was open in the late 1990s, it was open to address the retention rate for ninth-graders. We were retaining about 42 percent of students and then the decision was made at the high school to open an off-campus program for ninth-graders,” Chandler said. “We sent some of our best teachers to work with those children and the end results of that was we lowered retention rate of ninth-graders from 42 percent to 14 percent. We discontinued operations because we didn’t have enough students.”

Chandler and fellow school board members want to first implement a comprehensive strategic plan before moving forward with the introduction of new programs. The school system’s current strategic plan is a five-year goal, which was executed in 2008.

“I don’t think we can move forward with this program until a strategic planning process is complete. The strategic planning process should help us look at our existing programs and the need of new programs as we move forward,” he said. “The reality is we have a graduation rate of about 64 percent; that’s a problem. A strategic plan will help us explore all of our options, get a hand on what we need to do and that includes community support.”

The school board is currently in the preliminary stages of learning more about Ombudsman as they focus on creating a strategic plan for the next five years.

“We still need to gather more information and do a cost analysis, but if we decide to use their services, it would go before the board. We cannot spend money on services we already provide,” said board member Wes Cummings, District 5. “Because our current budget is set, I think we have to focus on what we have in place now. [Ombudsman] should be considered and part of that consideration could be, if we decide to use the program, to make it part of our strategic plan. Coming off the end of a five-year plan, the next five years are even more critical than ever before as it relates to economic growth. It would be premature on our part to bring this program in place now.”

For more information about Ombudsman’s program overview, learning center locations, and measurable results, visit www.ombudsman.com.

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