Tullahoma City Schools (TCS) officials are considering a change to how the district operates its alternative school, according to discussion at a recent school board study session.
The impetus for the discussion came from Tullahoma High School Principal Kathy Rose during an April study session of the Tullahoma City Schools Board of Education.
Rose explained to the board that she would like to see the district reform the alternative school to better suit the needs of students — particularly those who struggle with the rigors of a traditional school setup.
“We’ve got to try to come up with something that works for them,” she said, “because I want them to be successful.”
Currently, the district houses the alternative school in the Community Services Building (Old West), located behind the South Jackson Civic Center. It serves a more punitive function for students with disciplinary issues, although there are programs that help students get back on track academically.
Looking out for help
According to Director of Schools Dan Lawson, in searching for a program that might fit the needs of the most at-risk Tullahoma students, Bradley County Schools’ GOAL Academy, located in Cleveland, appeared as the frontrunner for a model program.
“It’s a combination of a traditional punitive alternative school and then an alternative school for those who are looking for an evening program (and) an alternative school for those who are doing some part-time school and part-time work,” said Lawson.
“The idea is Bradley County is trying to reach as many different niches as possible with their program,” he added.
Several school officials, including Director of Curriculum Susan Fanning, traveled to Bradley County to meet with school officials there and learn about the alternative school and see what, if anything, TCS officials might be able to implement locally.
“We’re not looking at just our students at alternative school,” she said.
“We’re looking at students also, where there’s not a discipline issue. They just struggle with the current model.”
Generally speaking, she said, she was looking at how TCS could make learning “much more personalized.”
“The word ‘personalized’ is huge,” she said.
“How do we personalize our students to be ready for the workforce?”
According to Fanning, she was most impressed with how Bradley County houses two individual programs in one building.
“There’s two different sections: the GO section and the AL section,” she said.
The GO side of the building, she said, is more of an academic track for high school juniors and seniors. This side assists students in credit recovery either in order to get back on track with their peers or to graduate, Fanning said.
Additionally, she said, the GO side provides job training and life skills education to students, such as interview preparedness.
“They (the students) earn all of their credits at this particular facility, and they (the teachers) teach them job skills, they teach them interview skills, they make sure they have the clothes for interviewing, (and) they really try to ready those students to enter into the job market,” said Fanning.
The AL side, however, is more of “what we would think of as a traditional alternative school,” she said. It houses the students who may have disciplinary issues.
One neat aspect of the academy, said Fanning, was that oftentimes students in the AL side of the school have the opportunity to move on to the GO side.
“Many of them, after they’ve worked their way out of the alternative school, become GO candidates. They actually go over to the GO side to finish,” she said.
It’s not a guarantee, she added, but the opportunity is there for those who excel in the AL side.
In addition to visiting Bradley County, Fanning said a coalition of area school officials will be meeting at the beginning of November in order to brainstorm ideas on how to revitalize alternative school in their respective districts.
“Superintendents met a few weeks ago to kind of identify what are some things that we have in common and what are some common concerns that we have and maybe together we can find a solution,” Fanning said.
The school districts involved are the Bedford, Coffee, Franklin and Moore county schools.
According to Lawson, Tullahoma is open to the idea of collaborating on the possible alternative school solution, although he did recognize that collaboration may not be possible due to the needs of each school district.
“If there can be some collaboration, great; if there can’t, that’s fine too, but we’re just inviting them to the table,” said Lawson.
According to Fanning, when the November meeting happens, she will share what the Tullahoma coalition learned in Bradley County to see if any of those ideas will work for the area at large.
“This is not just Tullahoma City recognizing that we could do things maybe a little differently for students,” she said.
It takes a village to create a better educational environment for students, and having all the area schools come together to figure out a solution will potentially yield some successful results, according to Fanning.
According to Lawson, he believes that if school officials continue their research and keep working toward their goals, a new version of alternative school at TCS could be possible by next school year.
When asked specifically by school board member Jessica Fogarty if this was a possibility, Lawson answered with an unequivocal “yes.”
Erin McCullough may be reached by email at email@example.com.