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.