Parent involvement
theme schools: NCSS to open two facilities

COVINGTON - Some students in the Newton County School System will have more options for public school programs next school year.

At its December monthly meeting, the Newton County Board of Education unanimously passed a recommendation from NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley to establish two parent involvement theme schools.

"To address a concern from the local community regarding a need to offer parental choice options in elementary and middle schools, a theme school committee over a period of five months studied and researched theme schools to determine options and to set suggested parameters," Whatley said in a memorandum to the board members.

In October, the board approved a recommendation from Whatley for school officials to move forward with plans to start a theme school after committee members presented suggestions for a parent involvement theme school with the goal of opening at least one in the 2009-10 school year at the middle school level at an existing building location. The concept would require parents to serve a certain number of volunteer hours and require students to wear uniforms and follow a certain set of rules.

Based on the fact that NCSS is scheduled to open a new elementary and middle school for the 2009-10 school year, Whatley's December recommendation was to establish two parent involvement theme schools to be located at Fairview Elementary School and Clements Middle School. Students zoned to attend Fairview will attend the new elementary school being built on Kirkland Road, and students who would otherwise attend Clements will now go to Liberty Middle on Salem Road, which is scheduled to open in August.

· Elementary Theme School

According to the plans that Whatley presented to the school board in December, the Fairview Elementary site will house a parental involvement theme school for kindergarten through grade five.

To receive full state funding, it must house a minimum of 450 students; the system set a maximum enrollment of 725 and may accept prekindergarten students at a later time, pending approval for an additional state-funded class.

A parent committee will work with school administrators to create a parent/student contract for those who attend the school and also determine activities and other requirements, such as volunteer hours and uniforms.

"Parents will be a vital part of the program as they work to reinforce the instructional program and to provide support to the school," Whatley said in the plans.

The school plans to serve students from a "super zone," consisting of Ficquett, Palmer-Stone, Fairview and West Newton elementary schools, but also will accept a limited number from the remaining 10 elementary schools. With a cap of 725 students, NCSS plans to fill the theme school with 100 students from Fairview, 200 from Ficquett, 250 from Palmer-Stone, 75 from West Newton and 100 from the remaining schools, unless one of the other schools doesn't use all of its seats. Transportation may be provided for those in the super zone but is not available for those outside of it.

Once a parent enrolls his child in the theme school, he must commit to the child's attendance for one year and cannot withdraw the child, enroll him at another NCSS school and then re-enter the theme school in the future. After one year, enrollment may be based on the parent's service hours and other school regulations that must be obeyed by the parents and students according to a contract.

· Middle Theme School

According to the plans, Clements Middle School will house a parental involvement theme school for grades six through eight.

NCSS plans to enroll between 624 and 850 students in the theme school by accepting 300 applications from current fifth-, sixth- and seventh-grade students zoned for Clements, 325 from Veterans Memorial Middle School, 100 from Indian Creek Middle and 75 from Cousins Middle and may need to hold a lottery depending on the number of applicants. NCSS only plans to offer transportation to those students in the Clements zone, while transportation for students from other school zones will be the responsibility of the parents/guardians.

As with the elementary theme school, a parent committee will work with school administrators to create a parent/student contract that will determine a specific number and type of volunteer hours, uniform requirements and other specific school rules.

Also like the elementary theme school, parents must commit to enroll their child in the theme school for at least one year and are not eligible to withdraw their child, enroll him in anther NCSS school and then re-enter him in the theme school again in the future. Enrollment at the school after one year is contingent on the parent and student conduct and results at the school.

The school system has already advertised for a principal at both locations to bring recommendations to the board at its January meeting. According to the theme school timeline, NCSS officials plan to accept parent and student applications in January and notify them of their acceptance and hold a lottery, if necessary, in March.

In March and April, the school system plans to select teaching staff to open the school by August. According to the theme school plan, depending on the need in each school in the super zone, downsizing at those schools will occur, but those staff members may request a transfer to the theme school.

Both theme schools are scheduled to open by August in time for the 2009-10 school year.

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