A new program, Walker County 180, is now serving as the school system’s intervention program for at-risk students.
Superintendent Jason Adkins said he felt the former alternative school was a failure by design.
“The way the alternative school had worked wasn’t effective,” Adkins said. “It was imperative that we change the entire process.”
Adkins said in the past that students could be sent to alternative school for a variety of disciplinary reasons and their stay could be as little as a day or two. Changes for this school year have set the minimum stay in the Walker County 180 program at 20 days.
“Petty discipline problems will not get a student to this program,” Adkins said. “We will handle most discipline issues at the school level.”
Area schools will use detentions and suspensions for most discipline problems. For major offenses, students will be removed from their school and placed in Walker County 180, which is being housed at the Walker County Center of Technology.
Adkins said students will receive their full curriculum while at Walker County 180, plus they will have the opportunity to work on their behavior issues through a variety of ways, including course work and counseling.
“We want to help improve these students as people, so that they may come out of the program with a different outlook on life,” Adkins said.
Ricky Pate is serving as principal over the program, and there are four teachers and a counselor dedicated to Walker County 180. Pate said there have been no students referred to the program this year, but there are a few students who had days to serve remaining from the last school year.
“The students who have been here the first few days have noticed a difference in what we are doing,” Pate said. “I believe it is going to be a great change, and I think it will help us make a bigger impact on the students who come here.”
Pate said the alternative school has long been considered a holding pen for troublemakers.
He said that is certainly not the case now.
“These will be at-risk students, and this program is their last chance to be in the Walker County School System, but we are making a strong effort to do everything we can to help these students,” Pate said. “We are teaching study skills and are spending more one-on-one time with students. Coming here may have happened because of something they have done, but we are going to show them that positive behavior will be rewarded.”
Adkins said the former alternative school was a punishment for bad behavior but the new program should be considered much more.
“We want to create a place where behavior is modified and changed rather than just punishing behavior,” he said.
There are many disciplinary problems that can lead to a student being placed into the Walker County 180 program, but Adkins said students committing even one illegal activity will not be allowed the option of the program. He said any student found with drugs or alcohol will be immediately expelled from the Walker County School System for one year.
“We are not going to tolerate drugs and alcohol,” he said. “If a student is found to have drugs or alcohol in their possession at school, they will not have the chance to go to Walker County 180. They will be out of our schools for at least a year.”
Pate said the program is designed to create better citizens.
“We want them to leave here as a new citizen. We want them to be young people with character,” Pate said. “If they are sent here, we want them to leave a different person than when they come. That’s where the Walker County 180 name comes from — we are looking for a complete change.”