Bibb school board to focus on dropout rates [The Macon Telegraph]
(Macon Telegraph (GA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sept. 21--WARNER ROBINS -- Faced with high school dropout rates as low as 38 percent, collapsing computer systems and a short-timer superintendent, the Bibb County school board decided in a two-day retreat to focus on those problems.
To help address the dropout rate, Bibb County's school system could turn to an unexpected ally: The Houston County school system, which offers a program called Edge Academy that focuses on high school students who have fallen at least five classes, Interim Superintendent Steve Smith said Saturday near the end of the retreat at the Museum of Aviation.
School board members said interventions like those may come too late. Board President Wanda West, a retired school superintendent, said the computer-based instruction of an Edge Academy wouldn't help if the students can't help read. Board member Ella Carter, a former principal, agreed earlier interventions would be key.
"If we're going to talk about graduation rates, we've got to do something before we let them go into 9th grade," Carter said.
But the school system isn't pinning its hopes for graduation on one or two types of intervention. Smith said there's plenty in the strategic plan -- dubbed The Macon Miracle by then-Superintendent Romain Dallemand -- that can help.
"I certainly don't see any real issues with the current strategic plan, other than the name," Smith said. "... There's nothing wrong with the plan. It's probably got 95 percent of what every other strategic plan has in it."
Smith, whose term as interim will lapse next summer, was reluctant to pursue a new strategic plan.
"That's something you ought to do with a superintendent that's going to be with you for a long time," he said.
The school board voted this spring to hire the Georgia School Boards Association to search for a new superintendent. However, the board hasn't publicly discussed basics of the search -- such as what skills a superintendent should have -- in months. They've never had such a public discussion in any depth. Board members indicated Saturday they were still split over how extensive the search should be.
The board bought out the contract of Dallemand, the system's last permanent superintendent, in February.
The school system's accreditation agency, AdvancED, faulted a divided board for not giving the school system needed leadership. Little of that divisiveness was during the retreat Friday and Saturday.
However, school board members were thrown during a technology presentation late Friday night, when the new technology director, Mike Hall, described 12-year-old computers that couldn't run the software the school system was trying to run. Hall told board members that about $20 million in technology spending supported by the schools' special purpose local option sales tax was already obligated.
Board member Lynn Farmer said the problem was worse than the board had been told, when it had to vote to approve expenses already underway. Farmer, who is in her last term on the board, warned other board members Friday night to keep oversight,.
"Those people who are left on this board better not sit and not hold a superintendent accountable. I own this," said Farmer, who said she was fuming at the extent of the problems.
Hall said one effort to get bids for work had been written so only a single company could apply for it. Some computers that were bought don't have mice and keyboards. The system had also not made good use of federal funding, which is costing the system $97,000 every month just for Internet service, Hall said.
In later discussions, West thought of other information technology opportunities.
"Why not do a magnet school that's an IT school?" she asked.
Smith replied, "Why don't we get all this straightened out? We'd be a bad example."
Hall plans some fixes by March. It will take longer to replace other services, such as email services that have gone down for as long as three months.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.
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