School OK'd for North Avenue

100 suspended, expelled students move to system's HQ

July 09, 2008|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

One hundred students on long-term suspension or expulsion will attend a new alternative school located within the city school system's North Avenue headquarters when classes resume Aug. 25, under a move approved last night.

The school board's vote to allow the school to operate within the administration building was practical and symbolic. On the practical side, the system is eliminating 310 central office jobs this summer, leaving space in the building.

But there is also no shortage of symbolism in placing some of the city's most vulnerable students alongside the administrators acting on their behalf. City schools chief Andres Alonso, who is at a conference at Harvard University this week and did not attend last night's board meeting, has said for months that he wanted a school to be located within school headquarters, to breathe life back into the bureaucracy and remind people why they are there.

"We're trying to change the idea of what happens at North Avenue," said school board Chairman Brian D. Morris.

The school is to be called the Success Academy. It will serve 50 middle and high school students in the morning and another 50 in the afternoon, for sessions lasting approximately four hours each.

Construction is to begin immediately on the first floor of the administration building, across the hall from the room where the board meets. Officials plan to build four classrooms, a small cafeteria, a nurse's suite and a room where students can go to calm down when they are having behavioral outbursts.

Students will stay at the school for an average of 30 to 45 days before transitioning back to a regular academic setting. Classes will have about 15 students.

Students will receive services from a social worker and behavioral intervention specialist. They will leave the school with an individualized plan designed to improve their behavior.

On any given day, some 270 of the city school system's 82,000 students have been expelled or are on long-term suspension. Until now, those students have been sent home with a work packet that Alonso says is meaningless. If the North Avenue school helps keep students from falling behind academically and prevents them from being suspended again, officials are interested in replicating it at two other locations, one on the city's east side and one on the west.

The site at East North Avenue and Calvert Street was once home to a school for blind children. The current building was constructed as Polytechnic Institute in 1912, but Poly - a magnet high school - moved to its current campus on West Cold Spring Lane in 1967. The building underwent a $14 million renovation for the system headquarters to be consolidated there in 1987, and in the years since then, it has become emblematic of bureaucratic inefficiencies.

Board members had many questions last night about the academic program that the new alternative school will offer, but no one objected to its being located there.

Morris alluded to the need for community outreach for an "allaying of fears" about a school for students with severe behavior problems. "These are our children," he said. "They need to be serviced just like any other children."

Alonso spent 12 years as a teacher of adolescents classified as emotionally disturbed.

The board also voted last night to temporarily place a new alternative school on the grounds of Chinquapin Middle for the next year.

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