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Theme schools plan growth, new policies

COVINGTON -- The Newton County School System is preparing for changes to its two parent-involvement theme schools next school year.

During its work session earlier this month, the Newton County Board of Education unanimously approved a new plan for its theme schools that includes program expansion at Clements, additional personnel and policy changes, which were developed by a theme school committee, district personnel and school administrators to enhance the program. The plan was part of a recommendation by NCSS Superintendent Steven Whatley.

As part of the plan, NCSS will change the name of Clements Theme School to Clements Preparatory Academy to depict enriched program areas.

"The curriculum at Clements is being enhanced with a variety of foreign language offerings and through the inclusion of the 'Junior Great Books' program," said Dr. Ken Proctor, director of the elementary curriculum at NCSS. "It is important to change the name of the school to better mesh with these enhancements."

Fairview Theme School will retain its name next school year, as its curriculum program is not being enhanced. However, Fairview plans to offer more connections, or extracurricular, classes for fifth-grade students, who will be housed at Fairview next school year.

As Fairview will serve kindergarten through fifth grades, Clements will revert back to serving sixth through eighth grades in its building, as it did before this school year when the theme schools were implemented.

Gifted endorsement programs also would be offered to staff at both schools for $300 per teacher.

"(It) allows teachers to receive the course credits to have an endorsement added to their credentials so that they can instruct students who are eligible for gifted services," Proctor said. "In addition, it enables teachers to differentiate better the learning activities for high achievers."

Teachers are required to take four courses to receive certification, he said.

At both theme schools, NCSS will establish new entrance requirements for the 2010-11 school year, as currently there are no academic or behavioral entrance requirements at either school.

According to the new requirements, students entering first grade must meet or exceed curriculum standards or show progress toward meeting them; second- through fourth-grade students must achieve a 2 or 3 or "satisfactory" or "progressing" in all subject areas on progress reports and report cards. Rising fifth- through eighth-graders must earn an 80 or higher for their semester averages or "satisfactory" or "progressing" in other program areas.

All students must have passed the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests in English/language arts and math to be admitted to both schools. No academic entrance requirements are mandatory for incoming kindergarten students.

Additionally for the 2010-11 school year, students in grades one through eight must have no out-of-school suspensions and no more than two discipline referrals that resulted in detention or in-school-suspension to be admitted to the theme schools.

For the 2011-12 school year, students in grades one through three must achieve a 2 or 3 or "satisfactory" or "progressing" to remain in the theme school; and students in grades four through eight must earn a yearly average of 80 or "satisfactory" or "progressing" to remain at the theme schools.

The theme schools also will cap enrollment at the schools next school year -- 100 kindergarten students, 154 first-graders, 110 second-graders, 110 third-graders, 108 fourth-graders, 108 fifth-graders, 140 sixth-graders, 140 seventh-graders and 140 eighth-graders. Currently, 140 kindergartners are enrolled in Fairview Theme School, 102 first-graders, 99 second-graders, 96 third-graders, 63 fourth-graders, 70 fifth-graders, 114 sixth-graders, 69 seventh-graders and 34 eighth-graders.

As part of the new theme school plan, parent contracts also will be revised at the theme schools next school year to be clearer and more specific, and schools will continue to track volunteer hours using a software program. This year, about 15 students were removed from the theme schools and returned to their home schools at the end of the first semester due to lack of parent involvement -- 10 volunteer hours were required from parents each semester -- and one was dis-enrolled due to behavioral issues, according to Proctor.

The schools also will periodically administer climate surveys to measure customer satisfaction, according to the new theme school plan.