Hope for change

Published 9:00 am Friday, May 17, 2024

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The Hope Academy may be changing hours. Amy Thorton, the Director of Secondary Education in the Troup County School System, presented some proposed changes regarding the operation of the county’s secondary alternative school.

“As a group we talked about [how] we got to do something about Hope [Academy],” Thornton said. “We’ve just got to do better than what we’re doing with the service model.”

Thornton, and Stephanie Winn-Chappell, faculty at Hope Academy, spoke about the issues the school faces, including capacity and recidivism. 

“Sometimes they’re aging out and they’re ready to drop out. And they only come to school so their parents won’t get in trouble,” Winn-Chapel said. They’ve gotten in trouble at their school over and over and over and they come to Hope Academy every single year.”

The school currently operates from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., shortened due to the lengthy bus routes. The capacity of the school is 118, with eight base teachers. 

“We suspended long-term, because of a lack of capacity, about 73 students. There were 20 [in the] first semester and 53 [in the] second semester.”

The proposed changes aim to reduce students coming back to the school, prepare them not only for re-entry into their base high school, but the workforce or continued education, and increase capacity to address problem behavior earlier. 

Thornton said a group of principals visited another alternative school, Maggie Brown School in Coweta County, and reported back to the secondary department. The school had a similar system to the one Thornton presented. 

The new model proposes a four-and-a-half-hour school day at the academy, which would double the capacity to 236 students with the same number of teachers. Thornton said, that with these projected numbers, it would eliminate long-term suspensions. 

“[Increased capacity] is not about trying to get more kids out of a base school,” Thornton said. “It’s about trying to intervene with more children quickly and more intentionally and then getting them back to their base school and not have the recidivism that we’ve had so far.”

For both middle school and high school students, the other half of the day not spent in the classroom would be virtual. Thornton said they want to continue doing restorative work between the students and their base schools and helping kids transition back. 

“What we find is that a lot of our students, academically, are capable, they’re just not showing it. It’s a lot of soft skills…how to communicate, how to disagree, how to get your point across so with this model, [Winn-Chapel] and her staff will be able to do a lot more of that,” Thornton said. 

Winn-Chapel discussed requiring students to have service or volunteer hours or experiential learning. She expressed interest in adding a community resource room, which would have washer and dryers, food, and other necessities. The room would be staffed and cleaned by students as a way for them to get service hours. 

“It will decrease conflict and increase safety because the students will be able to be separated. A lot of those times kids that end up at Hope [Academy] with conflict, end up at Hope together and are not able to separate them to get into a better place emotionally,” Thornton said.

The focus for the high school students especially, is to help them explore options after high school. Thornton discussed the career preparedness programs, the Great Promise Partnership (GPP) through the Georgia Department of Education as well as advanced career diplomas as services Hope would like to provide students. 

[GPP] is work-based learning but for a student that you might not think of as a student that will qualify…a student that struggles academically may have some emotional challenges some attendance issues,” Thornton said. “The state of Georgia realizes that if we can pour more into these students, it can help with our workforce because everybody needs a job regardless of how they acted in high school.”

Thornton said that the department has already communicated with current staff and a proposed schedule has been drafted, in hopes of submitting the proposal for approval in June. This would allow the changes to be implemented at the start of the next school year. 

“We’ve got to restore and get them back on track. It’s not getting assigned the hope and you’ve missed out on all these other opportunities,” Thornton said. “The staff is ready to support this work so that we can make sure that once you’re excluded from your base school it does not mean we’re excluding you from opportunities post-secondary.”