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Fulton County closes Crossroads schools, cuts 74 jobs

Program for 'chronically disruptive' students will be outsourced

April 23, 2013
FULTON COUNTY, Ga. – Nearly 40 teachers are among the group of 74 Fulton County School System employees who will be looking for jobs at the end of the school year with the decision to outsource the program that deals with chronically disruptive students.

The Fulton School Board voted 6-1 to close both Crossroads Second Chance North and South, and hire Nashville, Tenn.-based Ombudsman Education to handle the educational needs of students who have been expelled from a traditional high school or middle school.

The current structure, said Fulton Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa, has not produced results that justify spending $5 million a year, primarily in salaries, which equates to nearly $25,000 per student annually.

The contract with Ombudsman is approximately $1.87 million annually, and will cover up to 400 slots at $5,900 per student. Avossa said money is only one factor in the decision to outsource the Crossroads program, with flexibility and more options just as important.

"Parents [whose children have minor discipline issues] don't want to be in a program with kids with more significant discipline issues," said Avossa. "And they want to have those options closer to home, and different from a traditional setting from [where] their child was removed."

Students in the Crossroads program are in grades 6-12 and are there primarily because of chronic truancy, academic failure, behavior problems, disengagement or incarceration. The goal for Ombudsman will be returning students back into a traditional school, or to graduation, with the focus on the long-term suspended or expelled students and over-age middle school students who are two or more grade levels behind their peers.

Currently, 416 students are enrolled in the Crossroads program, with the majority of them attending the South Fulton location. The 74 employees at the two sites can apply for jobs with Ombudsman or apply for any openings in Fulton Schools next year, said Avossa.

He noted personnel at the Crossroads programs were "passionate and dedicated" to their students, but the structure, which too closely resembled the traditional program the kids were coming from, did not allow the flexibility the kids may have needed to succeed.

While some parents complained the decision was made with little advance warning, school officials noted the "request for proposal" was announced last summer. In addition, the issue was discussed at length at the March board meeting before being voted on at the April 11 meeting.

The school board voted to hire Ombudsman on a 6-1 vote, with Linda Bryant of South Fulton casting the lone "no." Board President Linda Schultz of Roswell was visibly emotional as the discussion on the alternative program was discussed.

"This is a really difficult decision for me," said Schultz. "I know many of the people [at Crossroads North] and I think they are very passionate about what they do. But I'm also a realist, and looking at the data, I know we can do better."

Crossroads Second Chance North is located in the former Independence High School building in Roswell, and was founded in 2005 to provide a separate facility for North Fulton students. It currently has 119 students.

Fulton School officials noted academic achievement among Crossroads students has remained stubbornly low with most students performing below expectations on state tests and the return rate back into the program at 15 percent.

"After we looked at data and looked at district goals, it is apparent we need to improve our outcomes in order to reach our goals," said Avossa, whose five-year plan includes a 90 percent graduation rate and all students work-ready at graduation.

Under the Ombudsman program, each student will receive an individualized education plan according to their needs and attend center sites located throughout the county. The school day will run four hours a day for high school students and five hours for middle school students. Students also will receive behavior support and intervention.

When questioned why the school day was shorter than Crossroads' five-and-a-half-hour day, Ombudsman officials noted the absence of lunch hour, no changing of classes and no elective classes.

"This is like a job…the students are working on task the entire day," said Mac Petit of Ombudsman. "It looks and feels like a workday with small group instruction."

Founded in 1975, Ombudsman Education is based in Nashville, Tenn., and operates in 240 public school districts in 22 states and the District of Columbia. In Georgia, it has programs in 26 school systems, including Cobb County, Douglas County and City of Marietta Schools. Since its founding, Ombudsman has helped more than 140,000 at-risk students stay on the graduation track.

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  1. report print email
    Doesn't make sense at all
    April 25, 2013 | 08:40 AM

    I see so many issues with this decision.

    County was managing these schools and they say results are not good. So obviously they did not do a good job then. So the solution is outsourcing it because there will be more flexibility and innovation.

    Seriously!!!! This is crazy! Fulton County School System is charter system and they have all the flexibility they need in the whole world. Why did you become a charter at first place if you don't want to use your flexibility and help these children????

    Let me tell you the real reason behind this decision. It is simply a way to save. The focus is not on academics. How do you expect more success when you reduce spending per students from $25,000 to almost $6000. There is no way.

    The only benefit is that Fulton County School System will save some more money. They don't care about students. They care about their funding. They act like politicians but not like educators. Read the above news again and see. Linda Schultz is a politician nothing else....

    Robert Avossa is a mediocre superintendent just like any other broad superintendent graduate he use corporate tactics for education.

    Public and journalists need to seriously investigate all the biddings and spendings of Fulton County. If they are not using all these funding for our students then what do they do with it!!!!!!

  2. report print email
    Such a disappointing decision.
    April 25, 2013 | 10:28 AM

    Will the few dollars saved in the short term be worth the long-term consequences of taking resources away from the students who need them most? Approximately 40% of students referred to the Crossroads program receive special education services. Does Fulton have the means to comply with these students’ IEPs if they are being served by an outside vendor? It is disingenuous at best to suggest that this is about anything but money.

    The "data" used to support the case for outsourcing was not disaggregated and did not paint an accurate picture of student achievement at Crossroads. Furthermore, at any other underperforming school, teachers and administrators would have been given a chance to improve. In this case, these educators were not even consulted. No board member--much less Dr. Avossa--ever came to observe classes at Crossroads, although they promised to.

    In the wake of the series of tragedies involving young people in the past year, it should be evident that removing interventions and support from those students at the greatest risk is a dangerous proposition. A computer lab in a strip mall, overseen by glorified babysitters, is not an environment in which to successfully rehabilitate, much less educate, the students Crossroads serves.
    These are not “bad” kids; they are kids who have made poor choices and are in desperate need of guidance, support, and structure.

    Anyone who visits Crossroads can observe that these students’ needs are being met by caring, highly-qualified professionals whose careers are focused on changing lives for the better. I hope, for the students' sake, that the same is true of Ombudsman. For what they pay, however, I can't imagine they attract the cream of the academic crop. I sincerely hope that this program is more successful in Fulton than it has been in other Metro counties; unfortunately, by the time the Board realizes it has made a mistake, the Crossroads family will be long gone, and the county will be forced to rebuild a program from the ground up.

    The "Reduction in Force" is just adding insult to injury; typically, when a school closes (e.g., Connected Academy), every effort is made to place the teachers affected at other schools in the district. If there has to be a RIF, the teachers impacted are generally lacking in seniority or performance; most of the teachers at Crossroads, however, have many years of experience and consistently positive evaluations.

    I don't feel qualified to speculate on the political aspects of the situation; I am just a teacher and a parent. All I know is that the true stakeholders were not consulted in this decision, and that this move cannot possibly be in the students' best interests.

    Mama Bear
  3. report print email
    I wish they were honest
    April 25, 2013 | 11:38 AM

    This is a really difficult decision for me," said Schultz. "I know many of the people [at Crossroads North] and I think they are very passionate about what they do. But I'm also a realist, and looking at the data, I know we can do better."

    You can do better!!! How??? Reduce the funding and outsource it. So this is the solution from the board president and the superintendent!!!!! What a tragedy!

    You know you can do better when you plan it and implement it. That's why you get taxpayer's money.

    Each time Linda Schultz make a mistake, she says: "This is a really difficult decision for me." You must be joking!! This isn't a difficult decision. This is a terrible decision. This is a decision you make when you don't care about your students. This is a decision you make when you forget your priorities. This is a decision you make when funding is more important than your students.

    I wish you guys cared about students as much as you cared about your political ambitions.

    Great job! You saved 3 million more!!!!!!!!

    Let's see how you use it now!

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