Junior high school students considered "high risk" because of repeated suspensions, truancy and low achievement might be prevented from dropping out by attending separate classes, school officials told the Alexandria School Board last night.

Charles H. Jackson, assistant superintendent for pupil services, said a $95,148 alternative education program with classes that stress problem-solving techniques, responsible behavior and individualized instruction may be the answer to keeping such students in school.

"We're trying to deal with those individuals that are persistently troublesome," he said.

Research shows problems such as academic failure, truancy, vandalism, violence, delinquency and dropping out are linked, Jackson said.

"Many students who exhibit behavioral problems are underachievers who maintain poor self-images," he said. "They have had limited academic success in school as measured by report card grades and usually become truants."

Jackson said the alternative education program would address those related problems through counseling, intensive academic instruction and activities to improve study skills.

He said the goal of the program would be to return the students to regular classes as soon as possible. Jackson said he expected most students would return to regular classes within several weeks, although some might remain in the alternative program for one quarter or longer.

"For some, one or two days out of the regular class might be enough," Jackson told the board. "We don't want it to be a dumping ground."

Students would be placed in the alternative classes based on their discipline records and the principal's recommendation, he said.

The alternative education program would replace existing crisis centers in each junior high school, where students with behavioral problems may be sent to calm down before returning to the regular class.

Several teachers, administrators and board members expressed concern over the possible elimination of the crisis centers, which they said are a crucial outlet for some disruptive students.

The Fairfax County School Board voted last December to begin a program for 25 seventh- and eighth-graders with serious behavioral problems. The pilot program, started this year at the former Bryant Intermediate School in the Groveton section, combines academics, counseling and a highly structured schedule.

The Alexandria board is scheduled to vote on the alternative education proposal at its meeting May 28.