Avoyelles School Board approves AVAP one-year extension

Alternative Ed center will add elementary program

Next year Avoyelles Parish elementary schools will have an off-campus place to send students who qualify for expulsion.

At a special meeting on March 18, the School Board approved a one-year contract extension for Ombudsman Educational Services to operate the Avoyelles Virtual Alternative Program (AVAP) in Hessmer. The contract extension was approved on a 6-3 vote with board members Robin Moreau, Aimee Dupuy and Lynn Deloach dissenting.

The approved program will cost $519,500, allow for 65 students -- 55 in grades 7-12 and 10 in elementary grades -- and consist of four all-day school sessions.

Board member Van Kojis made the motion to extend the contract and to “evaluate the program to see if there is anything better” for the 2020-21 school year.

For the past five years, AVAP has operated on two half-day sessions -- one in the morning, one in the afternoon, each with approximately 30 students in grades 7-12.

The cost of the program will actually be less than the half-day sessions, despite adding more teachers and staff to handle all students in one session.

The reason for that is a $170,00 savings by eliminating the mid-day transportation costs to take the morning session students home.

HALF-DAY CRITICIZED

One of the chief criticisms of the program is that the half-day makes it attractive to students -- rather than serving as a deterrent to misbehavior.

“We need a program with some bite in it,” Moreau said. “Consequences for their actions would help. We want to service every kid, but it gets to a breaking point.”

Board member Chris LaCour -- who voted for the extension -- said he would prefer to see an alternative program “that teaches them this is not the place where you want to go.”

Board member Latisha Small said those concerns will probably be addressed with a full-day program at the Hessmer campus.

She also said some concerns about the per-pupil cost of the alternative education program should not be an issue.

“Sending them home with a computer would be a disservice to those children,” Small said.

Students would not keep up with assignments and would get further behind, she noted.

To address concerns from elementary schools, the board is adding an elementary class to the program. Those students will be housed in a separate part of the building and will not mix with the older students.

Superintendent Blaine Dauzat told board members that “consequences” are not the only factor to consider in an alternative program for expelled students.

Dauzat said some students “have issues” that can be addressed in a setting such as AVAP -- with more one-on-one attention and a focus on behavior modification to try to correct those behavioral issues.

SUCCESS STORIES

Marksville High School Principal Liza Jacobs said she has seen several success stories in her students coming back from the AVAP program.

She said this year she has had three students -- including two seniors -- who were sent to AVAP, qualified to return after 30 days and have been successful ever since.

The two seniors will be graduating this year -- something she said would not have happened if they had been sent home with a laptop and told to keep up with their assignments online.

Jacobs said without a program like AVAP, high school performance scores would decline because the expelled students would fail the assessment tests or not take them, earning a “0” on the test.

Graduation rates would fall as students dropped out because they were too far behind. Graduation rates are also a factor in the high schools’ performance scores.

As more high school students dropped out, enrollment would decline. The parish gets about $8,000 per student from the state.

If the district lost only 10 more students to drop out due to this effect, it would be a $80,000 decline in state funds.

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