Recent incidents of student behavior have focused more interest on alternatives for students who exhibit disruptive behavior. Jennifer Coker, executive director of Alternative Programs and Services for Charleston County School District last week explained what some of those alternatives are and how they are being applied in the district.
Like many school districts, Charleston County School District suffers an extraordinary amount of disciplinary issues that often result in suspensions and expulsions. And like other school districts, CCSD administrators realized there was a need for alternatives to those results. The district has had several incarnations of alternative schools and programs since Community Education Partners developed the district’s first “discipline school”. Since that time, programs such as Septima Clark Academy which is an academic alternative program for high school students who have fallen behind in their studies, Daniel Jenkins Academy and Liberty Hill Academy which offer alternatives to students facing suspension or expulsion have developed. A new program, Turning Point Academy will begin in April. Each offers opportunities for students to continue their education as they deal with the issues that got them in trouble.
CCSD is retooling its alternative education program to focus, not only on alternatives to suspension and expulsion, but also to target prevention and intervention initiatives, said Coker who’s been the district’s executive director for the alternative education program about 18 months. As in the case of one student recently suspended for disruptive behavior on a North Charleston High School bus who has had multiple infractions while in school, such focuses can make the difference between a student completing his education or ending up on the street, she said.
In the past year the district has conducted training sessions for school staff that helps them identify issues students may be facing and ways to address them before they boil over into disruptive behavior.
Staff at some 60 elementary and middle schools has received the training, Coker said. This month staffs at high schools will begin the training. The training provides skills in identifying an array of issues such as drug and alcohol use and uses data to identify smoldering issues, she said. Sixty-five students this year are participating in the district’s drug and alcohol intervention program.
The task is massive. Only four social workers are employed full time to serve the district’s population of 50,000 students. There only are two behavioral specialists employed by the district. And four teacher coaches are working at the 60 schools already engaged in the training program. But some progress is being realized, Coker said. To date this year, there have been only 168 referrals for expulsion compared to 395 in the previous school year. Coker said that’s because staff is following more consistent processes.
Coker thinks the district’s new focus on alternative education will evolve as more data becomes available. She emphasizes that alternative education must not be just about discipline. More focus has to be placed on intervention and prevention, she said.