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Schools weigh costs, benefits of Asbury options

AMANDA SEBASTIANO
Staff Writer

Options for what to do about Asbury Alternative School and the condition of the building were mulled over Monday night as the Lincoln County Board of Education Building and Site Committee and local school officials hashed out ideas for the institution and how to make it better.
Superintendent Sherry Hoyle met with three focus groups recently to discuss the point of having an alternative school, and to brainstorm plans for how to fulfill the needs that aren’t being met by the current structure.
The discussion ended with the recommendation for additional rooms for Exceptional Children classes, a multi-purpose room, a science lab, space for guidance and a commons area for dining — ideas she brought back to share with the committee.
The addition of electives, such as art, were also mentioned along with an area for students at other local schools who receive suspensions, of 10 days or less, to go rather than being at home. They will still be considered suspended, but Hoyle reported that the group she met with felt the extra space may be more effective than students being alone in their homes during the time away from school.
She reported on a recent trip she took to another alternative school in the state, where she picked up a few ideas she thought might work well in Lincoln County. Hoyle suggested that computers border the technology classroom, with a space in the middle where desks are arranged in a group together — giving the student “face-to-face time” with their teacher and peers.
Executive Director of Facilities Darrell Gettys estimates the project to cost around $1.5 million, of the $2.4 million allotted for the project through a bond issued in 2007. The difference will be used for other smaller projects at the school, such as parking lot maintenance and makeovers of existing classrooms.
After hearing the dollar amount, Committee Chair Tommy Houser wanted to know more about the success of the institution.
“Some students tend to work better in classes with fewer students,” Hoyle said to the committee, “and it may be helping reduce the dropout rate, especially with the credit recovery option.”
Students who attend Asbury Alternative are typically there for a minimum of nine weeks, or a full grading cycle, and are given a chance to go back to their high school after they have completed the amount of time they are assigned to spend at Asbury Alternative. The glimpse of hope for students to go back to their previous high school is something that motivates them to try their best, Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Matt Stover said.
Stover shared stories about various children who had positive experiences at the school, and felt that it better prepared them to go back into a regular education setting. He said he has seen success there and is confident with the program.
Committee member Ed Hatley had recently visited the alternative school and spoke of his positive experience there, too.
“Educationally, it’s a really good program; I say this as a school board member and someone who has worked extensively with Asbury,” Hatley said. “It’s a completely different animal now than it used to be; it’s all about the staff who teach there.”
Following Hoyle’s presentation on the project suggestions, program budget options were distributed to compare different systems for school expenses that are accrued each school year, such as teaching positions and salaries of other faculty members.
The school-in-a-school plan seemed to spark controversy among those at the meeting this week. Though on paper, it looked to be the cheaper of the three choices, Assistant Superintendent for Business Steve Zickefoose assured his peers that all things considered, it wasn’t the most cost-effective choice.
An assistant principal position would have to be added and factored in, and would be a local cost that the education system would have to find a way to fund. Other costs such as transportation will still be an issue, he said, though clerical and custodial costs would be lower. The guidance program at the school may have to be eliminated, should another option than the current budget plan be chosen, which had the local officials concerned.
On the spreadsheet, the current budget is the most expensive of the options, but Zickefoose and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Elaine Boysworth stood by it as the best option.
After absorbing all the information they had just taken in, the committee took a vote on what to do next about Asbury Alternative. Board member Candy Burgin inquired about what would happen to the money, if the school board decides not to put it toward projects at the alternative school.
“It was laid out in the bond that this portion would be used for these projects; I think we would owe it to the public to explain why it isn’t going to be done, if that ends up being the case,” Gettys replied.
Hatley made a motion to move on to the next stage in the process and put out bids for the school’s projects, which Houser gave a second for. Clayton Mullis cast a sole dissenting vote and wasn’t quite convinced that the chunk of money needed to be spent, yet.
Disappointment with not meeting targets and low test scores were among the reasons he didn’t think this money should be put into the institution right now. He wants to see how successful the school will be, with recent staffing changes, and would feel more comfortable deciding on future projects after that information has been gathered, he said.
The majority ruled and the motion carried to move forward. Next, it will be presented to the Board of Education at the October meeting for final approval to determine what’s next for Asbury Alternative.

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