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Board OKs arts academy

COVINGTON - Staff at Newton High School and at the Newton County School System will work the rest of the year and into the summer to fully develop the planned Academy of Liberal Arts at the school before next school year.

At its regular meeting earlier this month, the Newton County Board of Education unanimously approved a recommendation from Superintendent Steven Whatley to accept the academy, giving the go-ahead to develop the rigorous educational program, which provides a partnership with Oxford College and encourages community service and parent involvement, for the 2009-10 school year.

"We as Newton Countians don't realize how blessed we are to have a good group of people who live and work in our county," said school board member Almond Turner at the meeting. "We really appreciate the efforts."

The program came out of a vision by school Principal Roderick Sams and the school council.

"I think sometimes people don't realize the power of our school councils," school board member Cathy Dobbs said during the meeting. "I hope this spurs other school councils."

The program is set up as a school within a school in which a select group of students will take advanced courses and academic electives.

"It's going to be built in and part of the school, not set aside," Sams said last week. "That will give the students a chance to interact with the entire student population but at the same time, be in a targeted program."

According to the proposal, eligible students are:

· Newton County residents;

· Those residing in the Newton High School attendance zone or who are outside of the zone who could provide their own transportation;

· Those participating in Quest with an overall average of 85; an incoming ninth-grader with an overall average of 90; or those currently enrolled at NHS with an overall average of a 90 with at least an 85 average in all advanced, Quest and/or Advanced Placement courses; and

· Students who have teacher recommendations regarding academic performance in advanced courses.

Students will choose an area of concentration and take a certain number of courses in various advanced subject areas and also must participate in at least 30 community service hours each academic year.

Sams said he hasn't set a target number of students for the program yet; he plans to first determine the interest and go from there, adding that his plans are to start small and give the program room to grow.

According to the proposed timeline, the school plans to hold a second parent meeting at 7 p.m. April 20. On May 1, applications to the program are due, and the school plans to complete its selections and notify those accepted students by May 22. This summer, the school plans to hold a summer institute in June for students and in July for teachers.

NHS also will develop an academic booster club for parents, who will participate in fundraising and volunteer activities and communicate new ideas. Sams said in the future, as the program grows, it may show a need for a director or another administrator, but that is not planned at this time.

Joe Moon, dean for campus life at Oxford College, said a final contract and all of the details are still being worked out, but according to a proposal through the partnership with Oxford College, the students would be allowed to use the Oxford College library and computer labs and can be partnered with Oxford professors as mentors, in addition to other opportunities.

"We're very honored. ... (Oxford staff) were pretty quickly enthusiastic and eager to help" Newton High School, Moon said, adding that the college also is a partner in education with Palmer Stone Elementary School. "It's the center of our institutional mission (to partner with public schools). Instantly, we're really quite interested in being a good neighbor."

The college also is set to provide training and professional development activities for school educators with college professors, Sams said.

"This program couldn't roll out this way if it wasn't for Oxford's participation," Sams said.

As the program grows, so will Oxford College's role, Moon said.

"Our role is going to evolve as students reach college age," he said. "But our intent isn't to recruit them to Oxford College, but simply to get them to go to college. The students will be key to us."

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

SideBar: At a glance

The Academy of Liberal Arts at Newton High School Timeline

· April 20 - 7 p.m. parent meeting

· May 1 - Applications due

· May 22 - Selections completed and notified

· June - Summer institute for new students

· July - Teacher summer institute