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Alternative education program contract up for renewal
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Officials with Ombudsman Education Services, the Newton County School System’s alternative education provider for at-risk students, made their pitch to get their contract renewed for the next year, and potentially next three years.

Newton County Board of Education members were presented at Tuesday’s work session with two-and-a-half years’ worth data from Ombudsman, which has been providing behavioral therapy and alternative education to at-risk students. The school board is expected to vote on the contract renewal request at its Tuesday meeting next week.

Mac Petit, spokesperson and regional vice president for Ombudsman, said the program has been successfully helping non-traditional learners get the grades and attention they need in school but may not receive in other educational circumstances.

“The goal, as always, is to send the students back to their home school, to transition them back to their home school better off than when they came,” Petit told the board.

Petit’s presentation showed enrollment is on track to match last year’s numbers. A total of 976 students have participated in the Ombudsman program in Newton County, with 425 enrolled in the 2011-2012 school year, 367 enrolled in 2012-2013 and 184 in the program this year so far.

If the contract is renewed, NCSS will pay $1,222,120, which is broken down into $6,259 for each of the 60 middle school slots and $6,047 for each of the 140 high school slots. The 200 slots will be paid for whether they are filled or not, but the contract allows for additional students to attend Ombudsman at a cost of $750 per student per month or $50 a day for partial months of entry/exit, whichever is less. The additional cost provision was used by the school system during both of the first two full years of Ombusdman’s contract.

The initial term for the agreement only includes the 2014-2015 school year, but the next two years would automatically renew unless the school district notifies Ombudsman by the March prior to the start of the contract. The 2015-2016 contract would cost the same as next year’s, but the price for the 206-2017 year would increase 1 percent to $1,234,300.

The largest student demographics in Ombudsman have been males (70 percent), ninth- and 10th graders (56 percent) and African Americans (76 percent). Of the 976 students who attended Ombudsman, only 33 returned after transitioning back to their home school a first time, a 3.4 percent rate over the two-and-a-half-year period.

However, board Chair Shakila Henderson-Baker was concerned that seniors, who cannot return to the program anyway after leaving high school, may have skewed the low recidivism rate and requested data on the number of students who returned excluding seniors.

Petit pointed out positive changes in graduation rates. While only four of the 15 potential graduates completed the process in 2011-2012 (27 percent), nine of 12 potential students graduated last year (75 percent). This year, there are 15 potential graduates.

Also, after seeing a spike of 208 suspensions in the second year from 96 in the first year, Petit said there were only eight suspensions in the Fall semester of this third year. Behavior drops, where the student leaves the program due to behavioral incidents, also fell from five in the first year to only two in the second year. There have been two behavior drops this year based on the data presented.

“That is a significant number to highlight,” Petit said.

However, students continued to work below grade-level. A goal of Ombudsman is to bring students to grade-level learning comprehension, but STAR diagnostic testing, which assigns a grade equivalency (GE) based on math and reading performance, determined most students are still working behind their grade level. While math GEs were higher than reading, only sixth-graders scored at or above their grade level (6.5 in math). But Petit said those scores tend to match national program averages.