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School board hires Strong as alternative school principal

Even though it doesn't have a name yet, McDuffie County's new alternative school now has a principal.

The Board of Education voted unanimously in a called meeting Tuesday night to make Cecil Strong, who currently is an assistant principal at Thomson-McDuffie Junior High, the principal of next year's alternative school. School board member Dorothy Hart was not present to vote.

"I hope to make you proud," Mr. Strong told the board as they welcomed him.

The school system's alternative program has sparked controversy the last couple of years as the Board of Education last year unanimously voted to close the CrossRoads Learning Center and subcontract the service with Ombudsman through Educational Services of America. When the time came to renew the Ombudsman contract this year, the board, which consisted of three newly-elected officials, opted not to renew with a six to one vote. Instead, they requested the system come up with their own alternative program - something Mr. Strong feels good about.

"This is going to be a learning center, an alternative program in the true sense, because we are going to be looking at alterative routes of education," he said. "It won't be just a smaller version of the high school, junior high and middle schools. And it won't be just for punitive reasons, but hopefully, we can reach our at-risk students."

Mr. Strong has been in administration in the McDuffie County School System since 2002 at both the high and junior high schools. During his career, he said he has taught math and science, worked with the 21st Century after school program and coached football and track.

He has been married to his wife, Sonya, since 2005, and together, they have four children. Mr. Strong said he is certified in four areas of concentrations in education, which includes masters and specialist degrees, after attending Savannah State, Armstrong Atlantic, Middle Georgia College, Augusta State University and Cambridge College.

"So, I'm a journeyman as far as school goes," he said.

Mr. Strong said he hopes the community and leaders will support the alternative program because he would like to see it be used to help attract industry to the area.

"I see a need in McDuffie County to build a viable work force, and it has to start some place," he said. "We need to make sure we have the young people in place who are educated at that level. Especially if we want to bring in new industries. This alternative program, the numbers may be small, but it affects our entire community, and that's the catch."

Superintendent Mark Petersen said a survey will be placed on the system's website for people to provide input on naming the new school. Tentative plans are to place the program back into the Pine Street building where CrossRoads was. The board worked on their fiscal year 2010 budget during the meeting Tuesday night. The work session included funds for implementing the new alternative program. In 2009, the system paid $329,900 for the Ombudsman program. In 2008, they paid $834,160 for CrossRoads Learning Center. Although they will need to acquire furniture and computers for the building, the board hopes to keep the expenses for the new program the same as CRLC.

A suggestion was made by board vice-chairman Rick McCorkle to take unused furniture and computers from each school and put in the alternative school.

"I want to caution you about using old, surplus computers," Board Chairwoman Georgia Hobbs said. "That program will be using computer-assisted teaching. They don't need to deal with slow systems."

Board member Bob Smith suggested using stimulus funds to start the program. In order for that to take place, every school that feeds into the alternative school must be a Title 1 school. Currently, only the elementary schools are designated Title 1 in McDuffie County.

Also, those funds will only be available for two years, comptroller Tom Smalley said.

Web posted on Thursday, May 07, 2009

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