Elaine Hicks, a Douglas County Community Corrections probation officer, said she used to wait until late afternoon to call Lawrence High School and ask whether juvenile offenders had shown up for classes.
Now, Hicks spends six hours a week at the high school. And if she discovers an offender is skipping class, "I'll go to their homes and send them to school that same day," she said.
Hicks said that's just one advantage of a new working relationship between LHS and Douglas County probation officers. Both Hicks and Patricia Henry, a Douglas County District Court Services probation officer, started the new arrangement on Monday.
The probation officers now will spend two hours each Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon at LHS, and they will spend two hours each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon at the Lawrence Alternative High School.
"THE PURPOSE is to centralize probation services within the schools because that's where the students are," Hicks said.
Henry supervises about 30 juvenile offenders at the high school level, and Hicks oversees about seven. Although Henry and Hicks have similar duties, the community corrections program provides more intensive supervision of juveniles than court services.
Hicks said she meets with each of the offenders she supervises twice a week. Because some juveniles might have limited means of transportation, being stationed in the school makes it easier to get together with them, she said.
Henry has experienced similar benefits.
"I have to contact the school weekly to check on attendance and grades," she said. "This will help a whole lot because I'll be there" and will be able to pull up information on attendance from the school's computer.
"I ALSO can pull the students out of class if I need to talk to them, and I can do that innocuously by sending a call slip to the teacher."
Hicks said the offenders she supervises have several obligations. In addition to reporting to her and attending work or school, they could be required to pay restitution to victims and perform community service work. Also, the offenders assigned to her are subject to drug and alcohol screenings upon request.
Now, Hicks said, if an offender is suspended from school, she'll find out sooner and can get the student involved in community service right away. Also, if an offender is suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol while at LHS, she could perform a test right at the school.
HENRY SAID her department doesn't perform on-site drug and alcohol testing. However, if a student is suspected of being under the influence, she'll take the student to court services for testing.
Judy Juneau, coordinator of the Lawrence Alternative High School, can't say enough about the new arrangement.
"They (juvenile offenders) now realize that somebody is monitoring them. That just makes the most incredible difference," Juneau said. "There's also an opportunity for the kid to learn that if he does what he's supposed to do, he's going to get some recognition for that."
Also, Juneau said, the presence of Hicks and Henry "sends the message that the school is very serious about efforts to create a drug-free climate at our school."
JUNEAU ADDED that the probation officers are willing to talk to classes about such things as drug prevention, the juvenile justice system and gangs.
Hicks said that even before the new arrangement, teachers of offenders in behavior disorder classes would call the minute the students were missing from class. But now regular classroom teachers might be more vocal about the absences of offenders, she said.
"Once teachers are aware, they are going to utilize the assistance we can provide them in dealing with kids," she said.
Henry said her purpose isn't just to give offenders a hard time.
"I'm an authoritarian, but they have to see the other side if you want them to respect you," she said. "You want them to know that you're not just there to give them grief."
She said some offenders will ask her to attend their ball games or to eat in the restaurants where they work. And this week at LHS, she said, one of the juveniles she supervises actually seemed somewhat glad to see her.
Henry said the student approached her after she had finished speaking to a class and said, "`I'm doing really well in school. Are you going to go down to the office and check?'"
"YOU JUST never know how you're going to be received," Henry said.
Henry said she hopes the new working relationship "really flies," adding that she eventually would like to set up a similar arrangement with the approximately 30 offenders she supervises in junior high schools.
Hicks and Juneau also support that idea.
"Kids are coming to our schools with more and more kinds of problems that are related to social issues," Juneau said. "If we're going to address those problems, we can't continue to work in a vacuum and in isolation from other agencies."