Private partner says alternative school showing improvement

Published 12:05 am Monday, January 27, 2014

NATCHEZ — The company that partnered with the Natchez-Adams School District and took over the Central Alternative School this school year is reporting an increase in student performance in reading and math.

The district approved a contract in late May to outsource the operation of the school to Ombudsman Educational Services.

The company agreed to operate its program within the school — hiring its own faculty and staff and providing all technological and learning materials.

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The contract was slated to save the district nearly $150,000 by alleviating the district of operating the facility.

The Chicago-based company partners with 115 school districts in 19 states across the country and specializes in alternative education, credit recovery and dropout prevention and recovery programs.

Ombudsman Regional Vice President Scott Russell said company officials are pleased with results from the program being operated out of the former Central Alternative School on Lynda Lee Drive.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth with the students, and that’s always great for our ultimate plan, which is to help these students get caught up to the correct grade level,” Russell said. “We’re also really trying to take away that stigma of what alternative education is in that it’s not always students with behavior issues.”

As of January, 74 students were enrolled in the program — 20 for academic reasons, one for attendance reasons and 53 for behavior reasons.

The program uses a blended learning model, which combines one-on-one classroom instruction with online content and instruction.

Results of Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) assessments at the school showed the standard score on reading tests increased 24 points, from 453 to 477.

The scores increased by four points on the math assessments, from 658 to 662.

On the reading tests, seventh-grade students showed the most improvement with those students showing a .8 percent grade level increase growth from 4.3 to 5.1. Those scores mean a seventh-grade student was reading on a fourth-grade level and increased to a fifth-grade level.

“Reading is something we’re really trying to focus on,” Russell said. “We also need to work on our test-taking skills with students, because some of them still aren’t taking the tests seriously.”

The assessment data also showed middle school students passed 60 percent of total courses, and 80 percent of those students were passing two or more classes.

Ombudsman Operations Manager Jennifer Coonrod said long-term goals for the program include more personalized learning opportunities for students, as well as addressing the needs of the students preparing to exit high school.

“We’re looking to build college and career ready students,” Coonrod said. “We know not all students will go to college, so we want to have them be career ready as well and just offer them those opportunities.”

Coonrod said company officials have also been recruiting local business and community leaders to come to the school and inspire the students.

“One person coming to the school and speaking to the students could spark their interest,” Coonrod said. “We want to make sure we’re really trying to make that connection with the students and make sure we’re helping students become productive citizens in the community.”

The curriculum the company uses is aligned to Mississippi state standards, as well as Common Core standards, which are nationally adopted standards the district must implement by the 2014-2015 school year.

The program also offers students an opportunity to earn an accredited Ombudsman diploma if they choose not to graduate from the school district.

With the district’s approval, students can earn an accredited Ombudsman diploma they can present when enrolling in community college, trade school, technical programs, university, enlisting in the military or applying for a job.

The company is accredited by AdvancED, a non-profit, non-governmental organization that accredits primary and secondary schools through the U.S. and internationally. The organization was formerly known as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and is the same company that accredits the district.

NASD Superintendent Frederick Hill said he was pleased about the student improvements at the school.

“I think we’re on the right track to seeing a lot of progress from those students,” Hill said.