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Kicking off our school Report Card series
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(To see the full infographic that goes with today's story see today's newspaper. The graphic contains data about the theme school's budget, test scores, student-teacher ratio, police calls and demographics.)

Welcome to the first in a 24-part series (that's right, 24) examining Newton County schools one by one, issue by issue. We're breaking down budget numbers, student-teacher ratios, test scores, police calls and demographics and telling you what makes each school unique. Throughout the series we'll also be taking reader questions about each school. So send your concerns, praise or questions to

The Newton County Theme School, located at the old Ficquett Elementary, has had a bumpy start in the county; although grades have split and been added and accusations of preferential treatment have been thrown, one thing that cannot be denied is the performance of the school which requires parental involvement and discipline contracts.

It started as two public schools, an elementary and a middle housed at Fairview and Clements - schools that back up to one another. When the middle school didn't get the numbers needed to rationalize keeping it separate, the two combined. After adding grades, the theme school now has students from kindergarten through seventh grade. Unlike a traditional public school, students must apply, sign a discipline contract and work on summer learning packets and parents must be accountable as well, signing contracts to spend a certain amount of time volunteering and reading with their students, among other things.

"All families and teachers are here because they have chosen our school," said Principal RuthAnne Smith. "Because our families spend a lot of time at school, they become friends with each other."

Academics are stressed, but the school also offers a variety of things to keep students occupied in an extracurricular sense. The Theme School offers robotics, chorus, math and reading clubs, iPad technology and photography. They will be adding band, foreign language, a dance team and intramural sports this coming school year.

"NCTS is important to our community for several reasons," said Superintendent Gary Mathews. "First and foremost, student achievement is quite positive at the school. Parents want academic success for their students, especially in the early grades where the foundation is laid for future learning. Secondly, NCTS is an important ‘choice' for parents. While it is not unlimited choice, given space and admission criteria, it is still a form of choice that many parents desire even as they are required to put volunteer hours into the school's operation. Despite the burden this is for some parents who have work and other restrictions on their time, they nonetheless make this commitment to secure a quality education for their children. There's nothing like a consistent record of success which NCTS enjoys.

"As for notions that NCTS is a private school, it is important to note that the free and reduced lunch percentage is approximately 32 percent, hardly indicative of most ‘private' schools I suspect. The school is also very diverse with approximately 53 percent African-American in grades K-5 and approximately 49 percent in the middle grades. At NCTS, all boats in the harbor are lifted."