Haywood County Schools to bring back middle school academy

Haywood County Schools to bring back middle school academy

The Academy, an alternative service for middle grades students, will return to Haywood County Schools in the coming year as one of the school system’s budget expansion priorities. 

“I think there is a great need for it,” said board member Marla Morris. “I do think it will take some pressure off of our middle school teachers and help retain those teachers.” 

The Academy offers alternative services and extra support with a smaller teacher-to-student ratio for students that need special help and attention in school.

“We have, with some creative budgeting, been able to locate dollars within our current expense — our current, current expense, not fund balance or any of that — to fund The Academy for next year,” said Haywood County Schools Superintendent Trevor Putnam.

The school system currently provides a program called Stepping Stones that functions as a way for students to access therapeutic and behavioral health services for kids in public schools.

“Our highest numbers come from middle school aged kids into Stepping Stones,” said Putnam. “So, the need is there greatly for middle school aged students who need an alternative placement for whatever the case may be — things going on at home, mental health support, social anxiety, you name it.”

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The Academy had long been a part of Haywood County Schools’ options for middle school students but went away four years ago as part of a budget cut within the school system.

“It has been sorely missed,” Putnam said. “We look at that in a lot of ways. Objective number one being that we have a suitable space for every kid, no matter what they’ve got going on in their life, we’ve got a good place for them to go and learn.”

“But number two, I think that it is hard for a teacher with kids with high needs in a larger classroom, because the teacher has 25 other kids and then this really high-needs kid,” Putnam added. “And it’s hard. Nobody really wins in that situation. The 25 others that are in there, the one that just needs a little something different, or the teacher who’s trying to pull it all together. So, we look at this through the lens of retention as well for middle school educators.” 

Putnam presented the plan to restart the program to the school board during its May 3 work session for information. However, restarting the program falls within administrative tasks and no board vote was required.

The school system will fund The Academy with money from federal Title IV funding which provides students with access to a well-rounded education; supports safe and healthy learning environments and improves the effective use of technology to enhance academic achievement and digital literacy for students.

It will also use some state funds to pay for staffing, as well as money from the exceptional children program funding.

“It’s already within pots of money that we have; it’ll be pulling them all together,” Putnam said.

The total recurring budget will be about $310,000, all of which will go toward personnel.

After meeting with all three middle school principals, administration decided the best location for The Academy would be on the campus of Waynesville Middle School, the same place The Academy was located prior to its closure four years ago.

“You have a space there that is physically separate both for bus drop-off, bus pick-up and physical classroom space,” Putnam said.

Canton Middle School does not have the same separate space options, and while Bethel Middle does have an option for separate space, according to school administration, Bethel Middle School typically does not require many slots or students to go to The Academy.

There will be two teachers and three teacher assistants working at The Academy. There might also be the need for additional administrative support due to the higher instances of discipline, but this has not yet been decided.

“Getting the right personnel is critically important,” Putnam told the board. “You have to have the right disposition; you have to understand and be skilled in working with challenged youth.” 

Brandi Stephenson, exceptional children program director, will work with principals to help pick staff for the program.

“It takes teachers with a certain gift and connection with those kids,” said school board member Marla Morris.

Without any objection from the board, Putnam said that he and Stephenson would begin posting positions for the Academy to start this fall.

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