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Posted: April 24, 2014 10:00 p.m.

Theme School highest ranking in Ga.

Newton County is home to the best scoring middle school in the state in 2013, according to the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) the Georgia Department of Education released earlier this week.

Newton County Theme School at Ficquett, the county’s combined elementary-middle school that requires parents to volunteer 20 hours a year as part of the Theme School contract, earned a 99.6 out of a 100-point scale for its middle school, placing it on top of every other middle school in the state and behind only two other schools – both elementary – overall.

The CCRPI, implemented in 2012 to replace the Adequate Yearly Progress measurement under No Child Left Behind, measures schools and school districts based on indicators such as subject and graduation rate, while weighting factors including significant numbers of economically disadvantaged students, English language learners and students with disabilities who meet expectations.

“I am very proud of all the efforts of the teachers, students, staff and parents, as they are very deserving of this recognition,” said Theme School Principal Jim Meneguzzo. “These results are due to a collective and collaborative effort by all. It is truly an honor and a privilege to be their principal, and I look forward to more great things in the future.”

Meneguzzo, in his second year as principal, stressed the importance of parental involvement on students’ success.
“It sets a higher standard. It helps support what the teachers are doing,” Meneguzzo said.

Teachers and faculty can do everything they can to best prepare students for future education and, eventually, job readiness, but Meneguzzo said they are only able to influence them for a certain time each day. Once they go home, it is important for parents to continue that model.

Even though parental volunteering is one of the conditions for their students to attend the Theme School, Meneguzzo said he thinks most parents would help out anyway, mentioning how everyone works as one unit meant to better the students’ education.

On the teaching side, Meneguzzo and his faculty emphasize project-based, active learning that is relevant to real-life experiences student will encounter. Technology, including the STEM initiative (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), has been expanding in the teaching curriculum, and classes take field trips to enhance the learning experience.

Teachers, Meneguzzo said, try to create a relaxed atmosphere during testing to let students know that testing is not the only scale of their success.

Since Meneguzzo has joined the Theme School staff, the middle school has expanded from only having a sixth grade class to a full-sized middle school with grades six through eight. In 2013, 176 of the 860 students attended the middle school.

One of the new teachers brought on for the growing middle school is Randy Norman, a seventh grade English teacher. The News recently reported that Norman was awarded one of four Spring 2014 ReImagine Newton Classroom Grants by the Newton Foundation for Educational Excellence, a non-profit that supports public schools with privately funded dollars.

Norman’s “Collaboration with Chromebooks” program uses the Google-based laptops for real-time collaboration within the class and between students around the world. Up to 50 students can work on and edit a document at the same time by using Google Drive on the Chromebooks. Students also use an educational blog to interact with seventh-graders in Virginia and New York and sixth-graders in Ireland.

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