SCBOE learns about Star Academy at work session

Published 5:34 pm Friday, August 2, 2019

Thursday night’s Selma City School Board work session saw the introduction of a new student academic intervention service that could be coming to the system.

Star Academy serves at-risk seventh through ninth-grade students who are struggling students or alternative learners.

The goal of the academy is to re-engage with comprehensive project-based science, technology, education and math (STEM) curriculum in core subjects, reduce overage eighth and ninth-grade drop outs, accelerate learning and social and emotional development, according to the presentation.

Star Academy, if approved by the board on Monday, would be a school within the school system with a curriculum of two math courses, two science courses, two English Language Arts (ELA) courses and one or two social studies courses.

The academy also would be for 80 students, which Selma City School Superintendent Dr. Avis Williams said the counselors are working to gather 50 at risk high school students and 30 at risk middle school students.

With the service of Star Academy being for three years, the program would work with a total of 240 at risk students.

The presentation showed the success rate of the program gathered from 10 years of program use.

According to the data presentation, 74 percent of the students in the program completed two years of work in one year, 22 percent of the students enrolled completed a grade level in one year and 3 percent of the students enrolled did not complete the program.

Other school systems such as Mobile, Escambia and Montgomery have taken part in the Star Academy.

In Mobile, 83 percent of the students enrolled in the program completed it with 68 percent of the students enrolled being promoted two grade levels in one year and 32 percent of the students enrolled in the program were promoted one grade level in one year.

In Escambia, 100 percent of the students enrolled in the program completed it with all of the students being promoted two grade levels in one year. 93 percent of the students received passing scores in math and 94 percent of the students received passing scores in ELA.

In Montgomery, 84 percent of the students enrolled in the program successfully completed it with 87 percent of the students being promoted two grade levels in one year and 8 percent of the students being promoted one grade level in one year.

Also in Montgomery was a 71 percent improvement in attendance and a 66 percent decrease in behavioral references.

The investment from the academy is a curriculum and academy design, computer equipment and furniture for classroom set up, which is based on group project learning, full curriculum for four subjects, three years of materials and three years of service.

The cost of the program is $900,000 which would be $300,000 per year. The teaching staff, the administrative staff and the overhead of the classroom is up to the school system to provide, according to a representative from Star Academy. Depending on how quickly the school system would pay the lease, interest would accumulate that the system would have to pay as well.

Williams added the principals in the system approved of the program as well saying that it would help at risk students from falling too far behind.

“We have had the principals at the table and they agree this could be a lifesaver for our scholars who are overage and several grade levels behind,” said Williams.

“We have been talking about for years how we need to revamp the alternative school, and what have we pictured it being? Exactly this. So, I just look at it if we want different results we have to do something different,” said Selma City School Board Member Danielle Wooten. “At the end, we will touch 240 students.”

Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma, was also part of the Star Academy idea pitch putting Williams in touch with the appropriate representatives from Star Academy.

“We coordinated the next steps and worked to set the stage for an in-person meeting or conference,” he said. “My understanding is that students at a Star Academy wear uniforms and are placed in small class settings. A selected school must provide about four classrooms for site and implementation. It is said to have a different approach to learning, where the curriculum is compacted to get a student, typically overage or lacking the necessary credits, back on track with his or her peer group.”

The board will vote on Monday if they wish to move forward with the first steps in implementing the program.

Rafael Simmons, the director of federal programs and strategic planning, presented an update of the STEAM Academy that is being set up at R.B. Hudson Middle School.

Simmons said the main reasons for a STEAM Academy were to bring more engagement to students, to address the declining enrollment s and to increase opportunities for students in the school system.

Simmons said the there has already seen implementation of projects at the school including the International Paper Outdoor Learning Center that was created through a grant from the International Paper Company that provided plants and trees and an aquatic ecosystem that allowed students to identify and study plants and animals in the garden provided.