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Posted: March 13, 2009 12:00 a.m.

New, select academy to open in NHS

Newton High School partners with Oxford College for Academy of Liberal Arts

Newton High School may soon become home to a rigorous theme school next academic year at no added cost if the Newton County Board of Education approves Superintendent Dr. Steven Whatley’s recommendation.

What has been proposed by those involved in the formation of the academy is a school within a school that would not only stress community and parental involvement but also have rigorous academic requirements. Formally called The Academy of Liberal Arts at Newton High School, the academy would also partner with Oxford College of Emory University and students would be required to meet — and keep — certain academic criteria.

Because the academy would be a part of NHS, there would be no added cost for the building of a new school or extra teachers. Students who are not zoned for the high school but who were accepted into the program, would be required to provide their own transportation.

According to a memo released by Whatley the academy would encourage students to "develop and maximize their educational potential while supported by highly-trained teachers in an inquiry-based learning environment."

ALANHS would provide qualified students with a rigorous, accelerated curriculum, four years of inquiry-based instruction, a partnership with Oxford College, extracurricular academic opportunities and a sustained community service component.

Students presently enrolled at NHS are eligible for admission as are incoming eighth grade students. Students all must be residents of the county and either live in the NHS zone or be prepared to provide their own transportation to and from school.

Eighth grade students must be enrolled in the Quest program with an overall grade average of 85. If the student is an incoming ninth-grader, they must have an overall average of 90 with at least an 85 average in all advanced, Quest or Advanced Placement courses. Students must also obtain teacher recommendations on academic performance in the advanced classes mentioned above.

According to NHS principal Dr. Roderick Sams, the academy has been discussed and researched for several months with those involved visiting other school systems that have similar programs in place.

"This has truly been an eye-opening experience," he said. "But it is going to provide opportunities for students that will really prepare them for the post-secondary education world. Once they have graduated they will be ready for anything. And I believe if they are ready then we should let them go."

Sams also said he believed many students are being limited because they are ready to move forward before their peers and that such a rigorous academic focus is something these students can thrive on.

The partnership with Oxford College was introduced by Buncie Hay Lanners, executive director of the Arts Association in Newton County, according to Sams. The partnership will benefit students by allowing them "mentors" from the college and use of the facilities, such as the library, computer labs and, possibly, lecture classrooms. There will also be a possibility for joint enrollment for students at the academy.

"I am thrilled with the quality of education both of my children received at NHS," Lanners said. "But I am so excited about the fact that this opportunity is available to take the quality level of education to another level," she said. "By collaborating with Oxford College we get one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges to mentor not only our students but our teachers as well, to help make them more competitive as they matriculate to colleges all over the country.

"I have a child in college and I understand the need for increased rigor and academic focus. I understand the need for our students to be as competitive as possible in getting into colleges and getting prepared for whatever they decide to do in life. Especially in this economy, it is important for us to give our children all the opportunities they can handle. Something like this will radically change public education in Newton County."

Oxford will also assist by collaborating with ALANHS in grant writing and fundraising efforts and allow the academy formal use of the Oxford College of Emory University name and logo on all literature and documentation, among other things.

For those students who are accepted to ALANHS, they will have certain mandatory courses above and beyond the standard curriculum, such as an extra year of foreign language. Students must also choose a total of 10 elective courses – three of which must be in academic areas.

Students will also be able to choose an area of concentration that will allow them to begin the college preparatory process. Each student must declare their concentration by the end of their sophomore year and complete a program of study. Students may choose a concentration in one or more of the following areas: language arts, social science, science, mathematics, computer science, foreign language, leadership or fine arts.

ALANHS will not only focus on academics, but will also have a strong focus on community service. Therefore, students will be required to give a minimum of 30 community service hours each academic year.

Parents are also encouraged to participate in their children’s academic career by becoming involved in an academic booster club called Parents Assuring School Success (PASS) Club.

"Newton High believes that parental involvement is a critical component of school success," reads the memo from Whatley. "The most direct benefit of this initiative will be higher levels of student achievement and improved school/community relations."

All NHS parents or guardians are eligible for PASS Club membership but parents of ALANHS parents are required to participate. Activities for the club include fundraising, volunteering, sponsorship of student or teacher recognition programs and providing a forum for discussion between parents and other concerned adults.

"The leadership and instructional staff of Newton High with support from parents, the community and Oxford College are to be commended for the development of the Academy," said Whatley. " Its approach emphasizes not only academic rigor in both the curriculum and instruction, but also the provision of opportunities for student leadership development and community service – all with collaboration between the quality institution of higher education, Oxford College, and our school system."

When presented with the layout of the academy, board members were visibly excited. District 2 member Eddie Johnson called Sams "the brightest thing in Newton County since the light bulb," while District 5 member Dr. C.C. Bates said the idea was "so exciting."

"I am excited about the proposal for the ALANHS," Bates said. "Our community has many unique post-secondary options and entering into a collaborative partnership with Oxford College is an innovative way for the system to take advantage of these options. During these difficult economic times we must continue to keep an eye on academic excellence and fortunately this proposal seeks to increase academic rigor, parent involvement, and service learning at no additional cost to the system. I think it will be a wonderful opportunity for the students and teachers involved in the program and will also strengthen the relationship with Oxford. Dr. Sams, the parent council at NHS, and Dean Bowen and others at Oxford should be commended for helping this become a possibility for our district."

Board members will cast their votes at their monthly meeting at 7 p.m. March 17 to decide if they should give ALANHS the go-ahead. The quick decision is necessary in order to effectively implement the academy in time for the coming school year. The suggested timeline has the first parent meeting held on March 23.

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