Schools prepare for academic blitz

By Johnny Jackson

A new school year arrives abundant with hope and ambition. So say several Clayton County staff, faculty and administrators.

"We expect our kids to come to school prepared to learn, ready to learn," said Superintendent Barbara Pulliam. "Our focus this year is to take the things we did last year and expand on them."

Pulliam said she also hoped to help improve Criterion-Reference Competency Tests and high school exit exam scores in schools in the county.

"We've got good staff in our schools," she said. "I think it's going to be a safe and orderly learning environment. We're all planning on having an absolutely excellent year in learning."

Melany Bracking is expressively overjoyed about first grade at her new school this year. "I'm so excited," she said. "I'm just so excited."

Bracking, 24, is one in 503 new teachers to Clayton County this year, some of whom will teach at the new Sequoyah Middle School.

Bracking will teach first-grade at West Clayton Elementary. She said she was impressed with the new teacher orientation. There, she said she found several mentors in the county and many new techniques for teaching. She received her bachelor's degree in elementary education from Washington State University and moved to the area from Seattle about two years ago for a change of pace, she said.

"I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to change the world," she said. "I guess the best way to change the world is through our youth. And I love kids."

Since May, there have been 20 newly hired administrators - principals, assistant principals, and central office personnel - and eight county schools that have undergone major renovations.

Ronnie Watts, coordinating supervisor for facilities construction in Clayton County, helped coordinate those renovations.

"We're very proud of the success we've achieved in the construction projects," Watts said. "We've been doing this for seven years with [Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax] SPLOST dollars, and we feel very successful and very proud of what we've been able to accomplish for tax payers.

"We feel like we've really got a bang for our buck," he said. "Sequoyah Middle School is the last new school to be funded from our second SPLOST. It's an excellent learning environment for Clayton County students. The job went well, and we're very proud of it."

Bobbi Ford, professional learning coordinator for Clayton County Schools, said about 400 new teachers attended orientation meetings in July. During the orientation, teachers learned techniques for teaching and teaching procedures and attended informational and motivational seminars.

"We're very excited about the number of new teachers," she said. "We're looking at literature and research of good schools, because we too want to be prepared."

Ford referred to fellow professional learning coordinator Georgia Wilson.

Wilson spoke during an orientation session about "Teaching Everybody's Child." The theme, she said, gives both motivational and instructional strategy to teachers who will have to teach students of different ethnicities, races, cultures, needs and languages.

Wilson explained: "For instance, we'd use more visual aids for students with limited English proficiency, as opposed to using handout worksheets that the students may not understand."

"I believe that (the county) is making great strides in education," said LaToya Laspie, who will teach at Swint Elementary.

Laspie, 29, attended Ohio State University. This is her first month in the Atlanta metropolitan area. But she said the transition for her has been fairly smooth as she has family in the area. She received her master's degree from Concordia University in Wisconsin and hopes to become a principal one day.

"I'm very optimistic," Laspie said. "I see the parents are very supportive. And the school is really supportive; I think that they are at the cutting edge of education because everything they do is based on research."

Though Berrina Chambers, who teaches Spanish at Forest Park High School, started work pre-planning early, she worked an entire week preparing her classroom. "I want my students to walk outside my classroom doors and speak the language to fluent speakers," she said. "It's been really tough. Luckily for me it's a labor of love. I really take pride in my classroom. My first year here, I didn't have a classroom; I floated from class to class.

"And I had a really good school year, last year, in spite of those tragic events last year," she said. "In light of that, I don't have any expectations for this year. I'm just praying that we pull through successfully."

Encouraged by the reception of new teachers, Ford said, "I expect that the new teachers will do a fine job this year."