At-Risk Schools For Students Can Co-Exist

Linda O'Dell: County's alternative classes do not compete with Payson

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The county's alternative schools do not compete with Payson's alternative school, County Superintendent of Schools Linda O'Dell told the Payson Unified School District Board at its Monday night board meeting.

O'Dell said her goal was for the Payson district to put her out of business.

Board member Don Engler told O'Dell the district loses money when students leave to attend Payson Education Center.

Engler had previously expressed misgivings about why O'Dell reopened the schools instead of collaborating with the district to help at-risk youth.

O'Dell said that for these kids, her school is essentially a last resort and the kids would not complete high school were it not for the county's Payson and Globe Education Centers.

"It has never been my intent to draw away from another school district, but rather draw to school students who would not otherwise be in school," O'Dell said.

Board members said they were interested in collaborating to educate at-risk youth.

"The whys and hows of merging or integrating the two is a conversation that should continue," O'Dell said.

O'Dell opened the Payson and Globe Education centers in 2005 to help graduate drop outs, homeless kids or those at risk of dropping out. O'Dell's position as the county superintendent of schools also requires her to educate jail inmates and juveniles in the court system.

Roughly 20 to 30 percent of the school's students are court-involved, according to O'Dell.

Of the 120 students who have graduated from Payson Education Center, half reported Payson High School as the last school they had attended, she said.

"Sixty-one students is a significant financial impact," Engler later said.

"Let me be really clear -- that doesn't mean they came directly from Payson High School," O'Dell said. Students may have been out of school for six months or a year before re-entering academia.

Ten of those 61 students reported they had dropped out and wanted to go back, but were older than average for their grade level and embarrassed to return. Eight had been suspended or expelled, and 10 cited attendance or behavioral problems as reasons for not attending regular high school.

Fifteen students said they "just weren't successful," which O'Dell said could refer to a credit shortage. Family issues can lead to academic problems for kids. "These are very real issues," O'Dell said.

Other students said they had the "wrong clothes" or the "wrong car" or felt a smaller school would be more conducive to their education.

"The district does not have the capability," O'Dell said, "nor the programs to meet the needs of these students."

She added, "It's very lonely when I get critiqued. I don't have four people to back me up. I am a board of one."

O'Dell had announced near the end of last school year that the Payson and Globe education centers would close after a former business manager embezzled money. O'Dell has said there were accountability problems at Globe, and she hired an all new staff. The two schools re-open Aug. 18.

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