Students and teachers at Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s alternative school for students with discipline problems are “traumatized and afraid,” a group of advocates told the school board Tuesday.
“Because all the disciplined students are sent to us, we are faced with gang fights, assaults on our staff and other students and threats to our staff and other students,” Stephanie Collins-Frempong, a Turning Point Academy teacher and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators representative, said during public comment time. “Our physical, mental and emotional health is under assault daily and we are at our wit’s end.”
Turning Point takes students from across Mecklenburg County who have been removed from other schools for behavior problems; they are assigned there for up to one school year. It has about 200 students.
The state’s recent tally of criminal and violent acts at schools showed there were eight assaults on personnel at Turning Point last school year, but no assaults on staff or students that involved weapons or resulted in serious injuries.
Concerns about safety and teacher morale at Turning Point come as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is seeking better ways to deal with troubled students. In addition to serving students assigned for longer stretches, Turning Point includes a short-term suspension center, where middle and high school students suspended for one to 10 days can study in mobile classrooms.
We are faced with gang fights, assaults on our staff and other students and threats to our staff and other students.
Turning Point Academy teacher Stephanie Collins-Frempong
Tuesday’s comments were a sharp contrast to some other meetings, where Turning Point parents have talked about how much the school helped their children.
Collins-Frempong told the board that students land at Turning Point “for offenses ranging from fighting to attempted murder. At times we have had sex offenders riding the same bus with middle school students as young as 11 years old.” She said teachers are too busy trying to keep order to tend to students psychological and emotional needs, and the school “feels more like a detention facility instead of an alternative educational program.”
Michael Hamilton, who described himself as a CMS parent and grandparent, said Turning Point lacks the support students need to deal with serious mental health issues. “They’re going into a combat zone where they have to defend themselves to see the next day,” he said.
Turning Point used to be housed at the old J.T. Williams Middle School, which was converted to a Montessori magnet this year. The alternative school was relocated to the former Pawtuckett Elementary building in northwest Charlotte, a move that teachers say has increase the stress because the building isn’t designed for teens.
Board member Thelma Byers-Bailey, who recently visited the school, said CMS buses take so long to reach the new site that students are taking city buses, which leaves them with about a mile to walk through a neighborhood without sidewalks. Attendance has plunged in the new location, Byers-Bailey said, leading students to fall even further behind.
CMAE President Erlene Lyde told the board she recently visited the school and believes the teachers are traumatized: “You could see it in their eyes. You could feel it in their spirits.”
“The students and staff at TPA need your help,” Lyde, who teaches at another school, told the board.
The group that spoke Tuesday said they had already taken their concerns to their principal and the area superintendent in charge of Turning Point. But Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, who started working with CMS last March and took over the top job in July, said after the meeting that the comments were a surprise to him. He said he has not yet visited Turning Point and just learned about a task force report done under his predecessor, Ann Clark, that includes recommendations for the program.
Wilcox said he plans to track down the report and learn more about Turning Point.