Opportunity School touts changes

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Posted: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 5:57 pm | Updated: 6:14 pm, Tue Dec 18, 2012.

CONCORD, N.C. -- Inside the Ralph A. Glenn Center, there have been some changes made to the Opportunity High School and Middle School, and Principal Beverly Mack is letting people in the community and around the state know about them.

“Our community push is to let parents, students and stakeholders know this is a great learning community, and it is more structured,” Mack said.

Earlier this month, she and Brandi Harris , the alternative school’s counselor and social worker, presented to a team of representatives from Cabarrus County Schools, Kannapolis City Schools and community agencies serving youth and families about the changes.

Mack, who stepped into her role almost exactly a year ago, is in her first full academic year as principal. She said she used the first six months on the job to figure out what changes needed to be made at the school.

“When I came last year, we had a high population of students and didn’t really have the staffing in place,” Mack said.

She told the school system administrators that the school would benefit if it had more administrators that included a counselor or social worker.

Over the summer, new staff members were hired.

In addition to the hiring of Harris, Brian Hamilton became the assistant principal of instruction, and Ken Simeone started his role as behavioral specialist.

“It’s been a tremendous change (to have) that team,” Mack said. “The students appreciate the unified front.”

Once a new administrative team was in place, the group of leaders worked “from the ground up” and reexamined the school’s vision, mission statement and needs.

“You have to really dig to find out what’s happening with these kids. … You have to be real with the kids,” Mack said. “You can’t sugarcoat it.”

She said the administrators have relationships with the students and know who they are.

Mack said there are basically three types of students at the alternative school: ones who make bad choice, students who have serious mental health issues and ones who are “entrenched in street life.”

Because of the different types of students it has, the Opportunity High School now has a tier system, modeled after an alternative school in Union County. Tier one includes students who take their classes at the Opportunity High School, while students in tier two take classes during later hours two days a week, and students in tier three are enrolled but work at home at their own pace.

The school has also implemented character education, which Mack said has probably been the most powerful thing the school has added.

There is a 15-minute session each morning for middle school students, and 15 minutes for high school students.

“(It is) 15-20 minutes of reflecting on something positive or doing a positive activity,” Mack said.

Harris added that the students respond well to it, especially when the staff members talk about their own experiences.

The school has also had students from the high school talk about their own progress to the middle school students, Harris said.

Freshman Destiny Hearns and sophomore Joe Frisbee said various character education sessions have been especially memorable.

“That gets the day started off good so you don’t have a bad day,” Hearns said.

Another major change is that the school has implemented a points system.

In the past, Mack said students would be suspended from their home school and sent to the alternative school, complete their work and return to their home school.

“Then they ended up back with us,” Mack said. “There was no level of positive support.”

Now, all students start at level one, and when they demonstrate positive changes, they earn points from the staff. The students can earn points for participating in class, demonstrating appropriate behavior and dressing appropriately, among other things.

Moving up to another level requires earning a certain percentage of daily points for a set number of days, and students can drop back to a previous level. Each level allows the students to earn certain privileges like being able to sit with their friends at lunch.

Once a student reaches level four and meets certain requirements, they can transition back to their home school.

“We have more kids on level three than any other, so it’s working so far,” Mack said.

Each student learns about the level system and academic and behavioral expectations when they first arrive at the school, during the new intake process.

Several students said they appreciate the changes the school has made.

Junior Rodney Harrison said the point system is a big incentive.

“The more points you have, the more freedom you have. … Here, they care about a lot more than just grades,” Harrison said.

Hearns agreed that the points system provides an incentive for the students to follow the rules so they can return to their home school. She has attended the Opportunity School in the past and said there is more structure now.

“The kids are not out of place,” Hearns said. “(The staff members) care about us. That’s why they’re strict on us. … We all know they’re here to help us.”

Because of the new changes, staff at the school continues to tweak and look for other ways to improve, Mack said.

“We consider ourselves on the way to being revitalized,” Mack said.

Contact reporter Jessica Groover Pacek: 704-789-9152

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