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Board of Education OKs open campus

CONYERS - The Rockdale open campus will soon be open.

The Rockdale County Board of Education unanimously approved Thursday at its regular meeting a recommendation that will provide the county with a school campus that offers credit recovery courses and advanced classes not offered at traditional schools.

Rockdale County Public Schools plans to open the Rockdale County Open Campus for the 2008-09 school year in a building owned by the school system on West Avenue that now houses the Alpha Academy, the county's alternative school.

"The Open Campus program will provide a flexible educational opportunity to students who may be unlikely, for a variety of reasons, to reach their full potential in the traditional high school structure," Superintendent Samuel King stated in a written recommendation to the board. "Current figures indicate that over 800 RCPS high school students have failed 25 percent or more of the required courses. While the RCPS graduation rate of 78 percent is well above state average, this figure represents over 200 individual students who did not meet the on-time graduation requirements."

The open campus will have a day school from 8 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. Evening classes from 3:40 to 8 p.m. will be offered for students attempting to make up lost credit hours.

The program will target five groups of students: potential drop-outs, actual drop-outs, accelerated students, traditional students with individual wants or needs and non-traditional students, such as students who are parents or who cannot attend school because of other non-traditional living environments.

"Some of it does mean remediation, but it does mean enrichment as well," said Rich Autry, assistant superintendent for support services for RCPS.

The school system will hire more than $1 million worth of personnel for the campus - including a principal, counselor, registrar, paraprofessionals and special education teachers and four core and three elective teachers - for now, in hopes of initially providing services to between 150 and 200 students.

"We did pick a skeletal staff ... a bare minimum," Autry said. "I don't want to get so big that we don't do it right."

He said the program can grow more later.

"There may be 800 (students) that have an interest, but we're going to have to cap it off this year," Autry said, adding that students looking for one or two credits can attend credit recovery classes and other programs during the school day. "We want to keep it small this year and keep it successful."

The board also voted at Thursday's meeting to hire a principal for the campus instead of waiting closer to the time the campus is scheduled to open. The principal would come on board in February and receive a salary of $58,000, which will be paid from the 2008 Special Projects fund.

"With (General Ray Davis Middle School), as well as with (the Rockdale Career Academy), we hired a person early on, and it provided for a smooth transition," King said.

Autry said principal interviews with internal and external candidates are complete; a specific name will come to the board for approval in January.

Starting in February, the new principal will create a communication and recruitment plan for the community, students and staff, as well as create scheduling and course development, Autry said.

Other personnel for the open campus will be hired at the same time as other county school personnel and will begin in July.

The total school start-up cost of the campus, including the hiring of staff, is estimated to run $1.231 million, plus $100,000 in equipment and $70,000 in supplies, which will be funded through the 2009 general fund budget.

Michelle Floyd can be reached at michelle.floyd@newtoncitizen.com.