Tupelo alternative school now private

TUPELO – Tupelo’s alternative school will be run next year by a private educational company that specializes in such learning environments.
The move, approved at Tuesday’s school board meeting, could save the district about half a million dollars and allow it to revamp its alternative program academically.
The move also left about 20 teachers jobless, but there could be openings within the district for those let go.
Students are sent to the alternative school because of behavior violations. About 115 students are now at the Fillmore Center, where the district houses its alternative program.
Tupelo Superintendent Randy Shaver said that by using Ombudsman Educational Services to run the school, students will get more academic attention.
“The other program was not addressing their academic needs,” Shaver said. “It was a place for warehousing bad kids and was very punitive.
“I’m not saying bad kids don’t need to be punished. They do, but it did nothing to help them learn academically.”
With Ombudsman, each student will learn individually using computer programs that begin with what that person was studying at the previous school. Currently, the students are taught together in larger classes.
Ombudsman will house its program at the Fillmore Center and will be in charge of its personnel. Tupelo will still be responsible for meals and maintenance, but Ombudsman will handle everything else, including all of the software that the program requires.
“They are specialists in alternative education,” Shaver said.
The Ombudsman’s program will seat 60 students at a cost of $456,000. It will charge $950 each for additional students, but Shaver said the goal will be to reduce the number of students it sends to the alternative school by working with them before their misbehavior worsens.
This year Tupelo Schools spent $1.04 million on the alternative school.
After Tuesday’s board meeting, Shaver met with the Fillmore Center employees who will lose their jobs because of the switch. That number includes teachers, teachers’ assistants, office staff and counselors.
Those employees will be able to apply for positions with Ombudsman. They’ll also be encouraged to apply for open positions within the district.
Shaver said the district has had 52 vacancies created by retiring staff and that it plans to fill about 22 of those. The others will remain vacated in response to funding cuts.
Tupelo Schools Human Resources Director Jim Turner will meet with the Fillmore Center employees who are losing their jobs to help them apply for other positions within the district, Shaver said.
The district still will provide food service works and custodians for the facility. Fillmore Center Principal Larry Harmon will be transferred within the district, possibly becoming director of special programs.
Ombudsman also operates an alternative school for the Holly Springs School District, Shaver said.
Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal