Natchez school board not renewing alternative education program contract

Published 2:36 pm Thursday, March 21, 2024

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NATCHEZ — The Natchez-Adams School District is not renewing its contract with the company providing an alternative program for some 50 students each year who would otherwise be unable to graduate.

The decision came after an hour-long executive session during the school board meeting this week. The executive session was closed to the public and to media. No other actions were taken after the executive session, which included other agenda topics such as a proposed lease agreement with Zeta Delta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, which was tabled, and the approval of a new contract for the school district superintendent.

“We’re looking at how we can provide a wrap-around program for students who need alternative options for high school and graduating credits,” said Interim Superintendent Zandra McDonald-Green after Tuesday’s meeting.

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Green also said there would be no lapse in services to alternative program students before the next school year.

“The board agreed to complete the contract as written through the end of the school year and is working to possibly have a new contract for the upcoming school year,” she said.

The program, contracted through a Chicago-based company, provides a supplemental learning experience for students who need assistance either with academics or behavior.

It has been offered by the school district since 2013 at the Central Alternative School. The program is accredited by the same organization that accredits NASD and other schools nationally, so an Ombudsman diploma carries the same weight as an NASD diploma or any others from the State of Mississippi.

The decision Tuesday comes after the board agreed last month to let any new students entering the program do so virtually because of a staff shortage.

“The Ombudsman leaders are short-staffed, and so the alternative program is requesting temporary virtual learning for new incoming students to accommodate them,” Green said at the February board meeting. “We have about four or five students who would be in that situation. They are going to provide those students with the devices they need and they will be able to have constant contact with the teachers who are there. Those students without internet access, the team is going to work with personally. Hopefully, this is only a temporary situation. They have a staffing shortage just as we do.”

About 45 students use the Ombudsman program each year, some for the full academic year and some for a month, Green said. Students enter the program and different times based on need.

In other matters during Tuesday’s meeting, the board recognized teachers with honors from the Program of Research and Evaluation for Public Schools (PREPS) for “outstanding performances on the statewide assessments,” said Tony Fields, the district Public Engagement Coordinator.

These award recipients include Delequa Drake, third-grade ELA at Gilmer McLaurin Elementary; Terri Fuqua, third-grade math at McLaurin; Sandra Ellis, fifth-grade ELA at Susie B. West Elementary; and Shawanna Hawkins, fifth-grade ELA at McLaurin.