Leader Blues

Friday, August 01, 2008

TOP STORY > >Freshmen Academy to rein in Dropouts

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Fresh off an encouraging pilot program, the Pulaski County Special School District will implement a freshmen academy this year aimed at reducing the number of dropouts and discipline problems in all its high schools, according to Beverly Ruthven, deputy superintendent.

The pilot program was deemed successful last year at Oak Grove High School, and this year each PCSSD high school, including Jacksonville, North Pulaski and Sylvan Hills will place every incoming freshman in the academy.

“The purpose is to make the transition from eighth grade to high school more successful,” according to Charlotte Case, head counselor at Jacksonville High School.

“We lose a lot of kids behavior-wise and credit-wise,” she said, “because of the kinds of behaviors they get into. There’s no more social promotion.”

She said students at Jacksonville would be broken up in three teams. All on Team A, for instance, would have the same English, math, science and social studies teachers, and those teachers will meet each day for a planning period where they track and discuss students across those disciplines.

At least once a week, the teachers will meet with Pamela Perez, Jacksonville’s freshman academy counselor.

Together, they can plan interventions for students who are having academic or behavioral problems.

“I’m really excited,” said Perez. This will help with test scores and attendance and lower (disciplinary) referrals. “We can get them on track to understand how important their test scores are.

“It’s going to be more like a family-type environment. We hope to catch kids before they fall through the cracks—a more preventative approach.

“We hope the kids can be nurtured more, mentored more and they can give up some of those behaviors,” Case said.

Students who struggled with English last year will have English five days a week, unusual in a system using AB-block scheduling.

If successful, they will receive core curriculum credit for the regular English class plus an elective credit for the other English class.

“When a teacher can give us a heads up—this student is acting out—we can call them in and give them strategies and send them back,” Case said. Then the staff can check back in a few months.

Charles Nelson will serve as principal for the Jacksonville freshman academy.

Perez said principals and counselors have attended training at the central office and will meet August 8 with the teachers and work out the teams and details.

“We saw a decrease in absences, a decrease in those who got earning credits for their classes and a slight reduction in office referrals,” said Jene Elms, who was Oak Grove’s freshman academy counselor last year.

There was a reduction in the number of Fs, she added.

Elms said she will counsel the same students again this year as the program expands into the 10th grade.