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Year in review...NCSS initially fails AYP, new elementary school opens
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The year 2008 will go down in history as a year full of highs and lows for the Newton County School System. Although faced with the challenge this year of bringing several schools up to standards after failing Adequate Yearly Progress as a district, NCSS still has much to celebrate, from being named a ‘quality school system' by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI) to approving two new theme schools, which will begin operating in the fall.

For the first time this year, NCSS did not meet AYP as a district after nine out of the county's 19 schools failed to meet AYP, according to a Georgia Department of Education report released in July. The failing schools included all four middle schools and two out of the county's three high schools.

While the 19 schools did not meet AYP, only three in the county ended up on the ‘needs improvement' list. Middle Ridge Elementary School failed to meet AYP and remained on the list again this year. Clements Middle School failed to meet AYP for the sixth consecutive year and remained on the list. Porterdale Elementary School did meet AYP this year, but will need to duplicate its effort next year to be removed from the list.

While the initial report was disappointing for NCSS officials, three rallied mid-summer to meet AYP. After the scores from the Criterion Referenced Competency Tests summer retests were reported, Palmer-Stone Elementary and Clements and Cousins Middle School met AYP. Although it met the standard this summer, Clements will need to meet AYP for two consecutive years to be removed from the list.

Top honors

NCSS was named a quality school system after SACS officials conducted a weeklong review of the system. To earn the designation, the system was able to show its commitment to systemic, systematic and sustainable improvement throughout the district.

SACS CASI accredits more than 13,000 schools and school systems nationally and internationally.

Snapping Shoals EMC awarded more than $17,000 in grants to 12 teachers in Newton County. The grants ranged from $575 to $2,000 each. Awards will be used to purchase math manipulative to help make abstract concepts more concrete for students, science equipment, educational toys and to fund several programs including the development of a learning garden Mainstay Academy. Schools receiving the grants include Sharp Learning Center, Eastside High School, Veterans Memorial Middle School and Rocky Plains Elementary School.

New schools and options

NCSS opened South Salem Elementary School this summer, becoming the county's first two-story elementary school. Located on Salem Road between Ga. Highway 81 and Browns Bridge Road, the 117,000 square-foot school facility boasts state-of-the-art amenities, including Promethian ACTIVboards and computers in each classroom, a media center with 12 work stations for internet research and two computer labs for instruction. The school opened its doors to students in August.

The BOE approved this year two theme schools-one for kindergarten to fifth grades and the other for sixth to eighth grades-which will operate with an emphasis on parental involvement. The sites for the theme schools are Fairview Elementary and Clements Middle Schools.

The BOE also constructed two new schools -Liberty Middle School and elementary school No. 14 on Kirkland Road. Liberty Middle School will take the place of Clements Middle School, which will now house the new theme middle school. Elementary school No. 14 will replace Fairview Elementary School, which will be the site of the new theme elementary school. Both Liberty Middle School and elementary school No. 14, which will be named in January, are set to open in September.

Welcomes and farewells

Newton High School welcomed principal Roderick Sams in July. Sams replaced Joe Gheesling, who left to serve as principal at North Hall School in Hall County.

Sams came to the county after serving for five years as principal at Blakeney Elementary School in Burke County. The BOE chose Sams after a month-long interview process that included Newton High School assistant principals Victor Lee and Carl Skinner as top candidates.

Gheesling served as Newton High School principal for three years.

NCSS said goodbye to several loyal members, including long-time BOE member Rickie Corley. Corley lost his bid for re-election to Newton County school bus driver Eddie Johnson. During the BOE's December meeting, fellow board members tearfully thanked Corley for his service to Newton County and expressed how much he would be missed. Also, Elizabeth and Henry Shephard, who have both worked as custodians in Newton County schools since 1972, retired this year.