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Rockdale County Public Schools expands specialty programs
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Director Michelle Thorne gives instructions during a rehearsal of "Hairspray" at Heritage High in 2010. Heritage will start its Academy of Visual and Performing Arts in the 2014-2015 school year. - photo by Submitted Photo

Rockdale County Public Schools students and parents will see even more school choice programs next year as the system continues moving towards its goals of more specialized and individualized instruction. 

Specialty option programs are essentially schools-within-schools that offer specific, often career-oriented programs. Seats are available at the specialty programs for out-of-zone Rockdale students.

New next year, RCPS is rolling out two academies for the visual and performing arts – one at Davis Middle and Heritage High. It is also expanding an Institute for Advanced Technology, which specializes in computer and gaming programing and web design, at Rockdale County High for ninth graders. The Advanced Technology Institute is currently in its pilot year.

Existing specialty program will expand, including the International Baccalaureate Primary Years program at CJ Hicks Elementary for grades K -4, the STEM Academy at Honey Creek Elementary for grades 3-5, the AVID program at Sims Elementary for grades K-5, the STEM Academy for Environmental Studies at Memorial Middle for grades 6-8, and the Microsoft I.T. Academies at the high schools

No additional funding will be needed to create and staff the academies, Teaching and Learning Director Leslie DeMarco told The News, because current staff can be reassigned. Some equipment, such as musical instruments, can be purchased with SPLOST funds, she said.

There will be an informational meeting regarding all School Choice options at the Rockdale Career Academy auditorium on March 3 at 6 p.m.


Performing and Visual Arts at DMS, HHS

The RCPS Academy of Performing and Visual Arts at Heritage High School and The RCPS Academy of Performing and Visual Arts at Davis Middle School will provide students advanced education opportunities in the Fine Arts, specifically in dance, instrumental music, vocal music, theatre and visual art. 

Heritage Principal Greg Fowler said, “We ask that you please be patient as we roll out our school choice programs. This will not be next year what it will be five or 10 years from now. We will start by building a great dance program, and slowly grow from there.”

There will be three further concentrations within theatre: musical theatre, acting and technical theater.

APVA-HHS students will enroll in a major – dance, instrumental music, vocal music, theatre or visual art-- and are expected to stay in that major for all four years of high school. Students will complete at least two major-area classes per semester, with the option to take more Academy fine arts classes, including classes outside of that student’s major. 

These classes, offered as electives, vary by major. They include Music Theory, Acting, Musical Theatre, Film and Television, Studio Music, Ceramics, Painting, and Photography. Students who complete three years of the program will receive a fine arts endorsement seal on their diploma. 

About 225 spots are available at APVA-HHS, with 75 of those reserved for those currently within the HHS attendance zone.

Applications for the Academy must be delivered to RCPS Central Registration at 1134 West Avenue, Conyers, GA, 30012 no later than March 18. No faxed or emailed applications will be accepted. 

This is followed by an artistic review or audition on March 22.  Letters letting students know if they were accepted are expected to be mailed between April 21 and May 2.

At Davis Middle School, The Academy of Performing and Visual Arts is designed to explore and develop artistic talents within young students by making the arts part of each student’s core learning experience.  APVA-DMS will, like APVA-HHS, provide advanced education in dance, instrumental music, vocal music, theatre and visual art.

This program was designed in tandem with the Academy program at Heritage. These programs are coordinated in such a way where students enrolled at APVA-DMS, should they want to continue on an advanced arts track, can transition to APVA-HHS. New classes will include Orchestra, Dance and Theatre.

There will be about 375 seats total for the Academy at Davis, with 25 spots for out-of-zone students at each grade level.

In order to qualify for APVA-DMS, students must meet the standard on the English/Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies CRCTs. Students will also be required to complete an audition/artistic review. 

An informational meeting for those interested will be held in the Davis Middle School theater on March 6 at 6 pm.


RCHS Institute of Advanced Technology

The Institute, housed in the second story of the newly renovated RCHS gymnasium building, had a soft opening this year with a pilot group of 55 RCHS students 

RCHS Principal Georgi Nour said the Institute is different than a career pathway track because it “offers a curriculum that links rigorous core academic courses to computer science and video gaming design.” Technology will be incorporated into all the classes, and the students all receive tablet to use. 

The Institute includes six math teachers, one social studies teacher, one language arts teacher and one biology teachers. Technology teacher Janice Cooper-King teaches the main programming and web design classes and is passionate about exposing students to fields they might not have considered previously.

“A lot of them have this hidden talent for technology,” said Cooper-King.

Currently, there is a Programming track, with three consecutive classes in programing and game design, and a Digital Media track, which covers web design. 

Students are excited about the classes, but robots worth thousands of dollars donated by corporations, as well as partnerships with technology companies such as Microsoft and local gaming and IT companies help bring home the real world applications for students, said Cooper-King.

Sophomores Aaron Zheng and Breone Adkins said their introductory programming classes were more challenging – in a good way – than other technology classes. “It was overwhelming at first, but I got good at it,” said Adkins, who also wrestles and plays football. He plans to pursue a career in computer science. Zheng is leaving his options open but said he appreciated the emphasis on real world applications and the many guest speakers who are industry professionals. 

Next year, the program will have 75 seats – 25 for RCHS’s zone, 25 from Salem High’s zone, 25 from Heritage High’s zone. 

The application process for rising ninth graders will be a competitive one, unlike the pilot year, and will require good grades, good behavior and attendance records and possibly even a presentation by the student. 



An important informational meeting for all school choice programs will be held Monday, March 3, at Rockdale Career Academy.

Applications for school choice programs will be accepted March 4-18, with a lottery for non-audition programs on March 20. Auditions for the arts academies will be March 20-April 5. Interviews and contract signing will take place March 24-April 16.

For applications and more information, visit the RCPS School Choice Options web page at or call the Registration Help Line at 770-761-1457.