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Charting a new course
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 Newton County will usher in two new schools this fall. Many residents may know about South Salem Elementary, which is set to open in July. Maybe less known, the Challenge Charter Academy opens for business in August at the former campus of R.L. Cousins High School.

  The CCA becomes Newton County's first charter school after the state accepted their petition in 2006.

 Early last year, the school received a $1 million grant from the Department of Labor and has been working diligently to renovate the campus in order to accommodate up to 130 students in 12 classrooms.

 Unlike Sharp Learning Center, the charter school targets students who may struggle in the larger schools and need more one-on-one instructional time. Each class has a 15-student maximum and will contain one teacher and one counselor.

 "We look for kids who really can't learn in the larger classroom environments," said Executive Director Cindy Simpson. "We are different from Sharp in that we don't target kids who have discipline problems, rather learning difficulties."

 Simpson said a perfect example is a fifth grade student who isn't ready for the transition into sixth grade, when students typically rotate between several teachers rather than having the same teacher throughout the day.

 Some of the resources have been used to outfit the school with up-to-date technology. Each classroom will have four computers for daily instructional use and a computer lab will house 30 more.

 The school also received a $250,000 grant from the Atlanta Falcons Youth Foundation that will be used to renovate the gym.

 The CCA is an open enrollment school and there are no district boundaries for households that wish to send their children. Simpson said high school students are even eligible to participate on their home school's sports teams.

 In order to attend the CCA, parents must fill out an application or students can be referred from one of the county's schools. To date, 53 students have been enrolled and Simpson says they have more than 150 referrals they still haven't gone through.

 The CCA has a governing body that reviews students for registration and makes hiring decisions for new staff members. In addition, Robinson said the board is made up of parents and community members in order to maintain objectivity.

 Jessica Robinson, coordinator for educational development, said teachers don't have to be state certified and will teach several subjects, similar to elementary teachers. But the school hopes to be able to trim subjects down so teachers can specialize.

 "We hope to get it to where teachers may teach math and science or social studies and language arts," Robinson said. "At the very least, we are looking for professionals that have a bachelor's degree in certain areas that can be correlated into teaching specific subjects."

 Ernetta Dailey-Worthy will serve as the school leader, which is essentially the same as a principal in a traditional school. Worthy comes from Project Adventure where she recently worked as a contract trainer and counselor at Rainbow Lake School.

 "Ernetta has served as an educator in Spalding County and a counselor at Project Adventure," Simpson said. "She has experience with those two aspects and that's what's important with this school. We look for someone who can balance the dual role of administrator and counselor."

 The school has to adhere to the policies set forth by the state as well as the Newton County School System.

 Students must pass the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT) and the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT). And while the CCA is not a part of the NCSS, the county will provide the transportation for the school.

 The CCA's charter is good for five years and they will be evaluated by the state department of education regularly to make sure they are conforming to the provisional guidelines they presented in their original petition.

 The school is nearly fully staffed and Simpson said she has received an influx of resumes to fill the three remaining spots. Robinson added the CCA does not want to be viewed as an alternative school but rather as an environment for students who just need a different style of learning.

 "The philosophy is to stay small enough to offer students a more one-on-one experience," Robinson said. "With our curriculum, offering two days a week of project-based learning, we hope to be able to stimulate students who may have a tougher time in larger classrooms."

 For more information, parents are encouraged to attend an open house at 6 p.m. on Tuesday. The open house will be held in the school's cafeteria.