Suspended middle-schoolers to get a second chance
It’s been a long time coming, but Durham Public Schools leaders expressed delight Tuesday at a staff report highlighting alternatives to school suspensions.
The report was presented during the board’s Support Services Committee, and included information about the new Second Chance Academy program housed at W.G. Pearson Middle Magnet School on Umstead Street.
“The board has been working with the administration for at least nine years … to develop some of these programs, so congratulations,” said School Board chairwoman Heidi Carter. “I’m really glad to see you able to report something to us. It feels like we’re taking strides in the right direction.”
The report comes amid community concern about the school district’s high rate of suspensions among black and Hispanic students and those with disabilities.
The district was the target of a federal complaint filed on behalf of a middle school student with a disability who was suspended a total of 34 school days during the 2012-13 school year and received no educational services during the suspension.
The district has announced that it will hold three public meetings in December to give the community a chance to help develop solutions to lower the school district’s suspension rate.
While the report about the alternative programs was well received, board member Nancy Cox worried that the district’s focus on alternatives to suspensions might deter teachers from taking steps to remove disruptive students from classrooms.
Cox said that could have harmful effects for non-disruptive students.
“I am sitting her thinking, inadvertently, without intention, are we going to start sending messages to teachers, ‘Don’t move you kids out of the classroom,’ ” Cox wondered.
Second Chance Academy started as a pilot program last spring at the Emily K Center as an attempt to reduce suspensions at three middle schools – Neal, Lowe’s Grove and Githens -- that experienced the worst problems with short-term suspensions, suspensions lasting fewer than 10 days.
Students referred to Second Chance Academy by their base schools continue to receive educational services.
Citing positive feedback from parents and students, the program was moved to W.G. Pearson and expanded to include all of the school district’s middle schools.
It began accepting students on Oct. 4, and will provide regular academic support, support for exceptional children and a socio-emotional component for behavior.
“We receive great reviews from our parents, students and other community partners who came through and witnessed the work that is going on at Second Chance Academy,” said Theresa McGowan, preventative services coordinator for DPS.
Second Chance Academy is equipped to serve between 18 and 54 middle school students.
Meals are provided, but parents are responsible for transportation.
“Middle schools are pivotal years,” Superintendent Eric J. Becoats said in a news release touting the program. “We are committed to providing the intervention and support to help students regain their focus and make better decisions.”
The school district also operates the Short-Term Intervention Program at Lakeview School on Dearborn Drive.
The school currently serves middle-and high school students, but McGowan said the creation of the Second Chance Academy could eventually allow the program at Lakeview to focus solely on high school students.
The school district also is considering a partnership with the Rebound Program to provide services for high school students serving short-term suspensions.
The non-profit program modeled after Boomerang, the alternative to suspension program in Chapel Hill, served about 19 kids last school year as a pilot program at Reality Ministries.
Statistics show black students at DPS, who made up 51.34 percent of enrolled students in 2012, were suspended 78.43 percent of the time. Hispanic students, representing 22.33 percent of the student population, accounted for 13.28 percent of the suspensions.
Meanwhile, white students, 20.65 percent of enrolled students, were suspended only 5.26 percent of the time.
In other news Tuesday, DPS named former assistant superintendent and principal Eunice O. Sanders interim principal of W.G. Pearson Middle School effective Nov. 12.
Sanders retired after serving as assistant superintendent of student support services from June 2009 to March 2012.
She has served as principal of Hillside High, Rogers-Herr Middle and C.C. Spaulding Biosphere Magnet Elementary.
Sanders was the 2002 Wachovia Principal of the Year for DPS. She holds master’s degrees in special education and supervision and administration from N.C. Central University.