School board hears about pilot alternative to suspension

School board hears about pilot alternative to suspension

CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign school board heard Monday about a program that could provide students a chance to learn academics and social skills and catch up on homework, rather than being suspended out of school.

The board is expected to vote April 22 on the program, which would be a one-year pilot.

The idea for the program started when Orlando Thomas, the school district's director of achievement and student services, talked to 25 students who had been suspended more than three times.

They told him they slept all day when serving out-of-school suspension, or went to the mall or went to another school to ask their friends to skip classes.

They said to succeed, they needed teachers to respect them, a mentor to help them when they needed a break or help staying eligible for sports because that's the only thing they cared about.

The suspension alternative program would offer the students social skills classes directly related to the reason they were suspended. It would also offer instruction on reading and math and give students time to work on homework they're missing during class.

Laura Taylor, the school district's assistant superintendent for achievement and student services, said the program is about learning and should give students who may be suspended for long periods — as much as 10 days — the opportunity to come back to their school and be prepared to learn with the class.

"You lose kids when you suspend them," Taylor said. "You lose their learning opportunities."

The program would employ an associate principal and two teachers, one for kindergarten through sixth grade and one for seventh grade through high school.

The school board approved those positions as a part of a staffing request last month. The administrator will cost about $70,000; the teachers, $100,000; and supplies and transportation, about $20,000 combined.

The school district currently spends about $450,000 sending students, many of whom have been expelled, to alternative school.

Board member Jamar Brown asked if the school district could save some money by catching students' behavioral problems early and keeping them in the school district.

"That's the hope," Thomas said.

However, if a parent chose not to send a child to the program, the school district will not suspend the student for longer.

That's because doing so could mean a student suspended for two days could be out of class for five, Thomas said.

The school board also heard an update on the process the district has been going through to create a plan for what to do with its aging facilities.

Board member Kristine Chalifoux and Champaign City Planning Director Bruce Knight provided a recap of the process, which started in November. They're co-chairs of the Future Facilities steering committee.

Superintendent Judy Wiegand will present a final report on the process, as well as a recommendation, after new board members are sworn in in May. That recommendation will most likely not include a recommendation on where to put any new school buildings, Chalifoux said.

The school district will ask for more input — possibly even proposals — from the community on finding sites for any new recommended schools, even those that perhaps haven't been mentioned as options at this point.

The school board also recognized board member Dave Tomlinson, who attended his last meeting.

"I think the district is in a great position," Tomlinson said. "I strongly believe in (Wiegand's) leadership and the future of the district."

Tomlinson was elected in 2005 and won't be able to attend the last meeting of his term later this month.

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