Newton school board plans for theme school expansion

COVINGTON -- The Newton County Board of Education opted to pursue an expansion plan for the Newton County Theme School at Ficquett that would create a kindergarten through eighth-grade school. Under the expansion plan, the school would add seventh grade in the 2012-13 school year and eighth grade in the 2013-14 school year.

In a called meeting Wednesday afternoon, the school board voted unanimously to approve one of two expansion options presented by Dr. Samantha Fuhrey, executive director of secondary education, and Dr. Ken Proctor, executive director of elementary curriculum. Fuhrey and Proctor recommended the K-8 option as opposed to another format that would have created an elementary/middle school split, with a K-4 component and a sixth- through eighth-grade component.

The K-8 format would cost less in terms of staffing than a plan that would include an elementary/middle school split. In addition, the plan would keep all students on the elementary school schedule.

Proctor told the board that current parents of theme school students were surveyed to determine what improvements they would like to see in the school. Extracurricular activities received the most support from sixth-grade parents, while establishing a middle school tradition received more support from fifth-grade parents.

In terms of special programs, both sixth-grade and fifth-grade parents supported the addition of Spanish to the curriculum. Band received strong support from fifth-grade parents.

The board discussed several options to meet parents' desire for extracurricular activities for theme school students. Among those options presented were theme school-based sports for small groups or individuals, similar to intramural sports programs; theme school student participation at their zoned middle school; theme school student participation at a designated middle school; or a combination of intramurals and participation at other middle schools. Student participation at other middle schools would not create additional costs for the school system, but there would be transportation costs for parents.

As a result of the discussion Fuhrey and Proctor agreed to survey parents on their preferences for a structure for extracurricular activities and bring that information back to the board in January.

Other considerations discussed for theme school expansion included space needs, staffing, books for the media center, and lockers for additional middle school students.

The expansion would create a need for three additional teaching positions for each of the next two school years, at a cost of approximately $150,000 per year.

In addition, three mobile units already on site would need to be outfitted for use in the 2012-13 school year at a cost of $3,600. Renovations to remove walls in three classrooms for core subject area teachers would cost about $8,000, and four additional mobile units already on site would be need to be put back in use for the 2013-14 school year at an approximate cost of $4,800.

Additional books are estimated to cost $5,000 per year and lockers are expected to cost $8,600, with funding to be split between the school system and the school's PTO.