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Students attend American history class on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, at the Gentilly campus of The NET, an alternative charter high school in New Orleans.

About 1,400 educators will gather in Baton Rouge this month, a first of its kind summit that is part of the state’s bid to repair its troubled system of alternative schools.

The Jan. 30 meeting will include principals, counselors, school psychologists, teachers and others from both traditional public schools and some of the state's roughly three dozen alternative schools.

The workshops, panel discussions and other steps are aimed at helping educators better handle a wide range of problems, from teaching basic life skills to dealing with students who bring drugs and weapons to school.

The event is called the 2019 Behavioral Intervention Summit and will take place at the Raising Cane's River Center in Baton Rouge from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"It is a really intense one day," Katie Barras, education consultant for the state Office of Student Opportunities and one of the leaders of the gathering said Thursday.

The meeting is the latest response to a state report issued 14 months ago that blasted Louisiana's alternative schools and programs, which are for students with academic or behavior problems or both.

The review by educators said public schools are too quick to remove students with behavior problems, and that most students fail to get the help they need when they are sent to alternative schools.

"We do hope and expect a decrease in the number of students going to alternative education sites," said Lisa French, chief of staff for the Office of Student Opportunities.

About 18,000 students are in alternative programs or schools, and they are five times as likely to drop out – 19 percent – as rank-and-file students. Also, black students make up 44 percent of the public school population but 85 percent of those sent to alternative programs.

The one-day meeting will include sessions on how to handle students whose behavior stems from trauma or stress, how to carry out an effective student code of conduct and how to engage families when students show behavior problems.

Tamara Johnson, executive director of school leadership in the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said the gathering is important "because we aren't mental health providers. But it is going to get us on the right track to know what we need to do to address those behavioral needs."

In some alternative schools a large percentage of students are homeless, have children of their own, and balance school work with part-time jobs.

Alternative schools are stand-alone sites that get an annual school performance score from the state Department of Education, often D's and F's.

Alternative programs serve a similar purpose but those students remain enrolled in their traditional schools.

One of the longtime complaints is that the state needed to change the way it views the schools, which is what the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education did three months ago.

The changes make a distinction when evaluating alternative schools and programs compared to traditional schools.

Under the new rules, state scores for alternative elementary and middle schools will be based on how students fare on key state assessments.

For alternative high schools the scores will focus on state assessment progress, students earning post-secondary credentials and how many core academic credits they earn.

"The accountability for those schools should be tailored to what we are trying to accomplish with those students," Doris Voitier, a member of BESE, said Thursday.

Voitier is also superintendent of the St. Bernard Parish School District, whose alternative high school with about 100 students has gotten attention from state officials.

The school combines a traditional classroom setting with assistance from the LSU Medical School and the Methodist Foundation.

Voitier said that, if a student fails fail to understand how to handle anger, "you are never going to get him to succeed." 


Follow Will Sentell on Twitter, @WillSentell.