By Johnny Jackson
Still an entire month away from the first day of school, Principal Jay Fowler and staff members at Rocky Creek Elementary School are already dealing with a major challenge.
Fowler said he and Hampton Middle School Principal Carolyn Flemister-Bell made telephone calls Thursday in an effort to round up support for an employee at Rocky Creek. The employee's home, according to Fowler, was destroyed by fire earlier in the week.
Fowler and Flemister-Bell are each opening a new school this fall to help ease crowding at other schools in the Henry County School System.
"It's been one of those things," Fowler said. "My focus will be trying to build a family with the staff and community."
Beginning this fall, the former assistant principal at Dutchtown Elementary School will be working alongside Flemister-Bell, who will head Hampton Middle School next door.
Fowler said he has already received some responses from parents about the issues they are most concerned with. Their number one issue, he said, is safety.
"I also laid out my expectations to parents," he said. "I expect them to be involved in their kids' education, and in return, they're going to get a quality education for their kids."
Flemister-Bell, formerly an assistant principal at Stockbridge Middle School, was hired in February along with Fowler to head two of the school system's newest schools, which are expected to open Aug. 3.
Fowler's Rocky Creek will open with a projected 565 students, taking students from Luella and Hampton elementary schools. Flemister-Bell will open Hampton to 800 students, coming from the nearby Luella Middle School.
Over the past few months, each have had to fill about 30 school-level positions and work to establish a school-level mission and protocol.
"It's exciting opening a new school, because you get to establish things," Flemister-Bell said. "You're beginning the culture of that school."
Flemister-Bell said much is required to complete a school's culture.
"I do need parents who are involved," she said. "And I want their children to take ownership of their education."
She said she has already reviewed school-level academic records, which include students' performance on Georgia's standards-based Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.
"Helping students with disabilities perform well on the CRCTs will be the largest challenge for Hampton Middle School," Flemister-Bell said.
She added that school financing will be a prevailing challenge for her new school, and others.
According to Flemister-Bell, new schools get no more additional funding than existing schools in Henry County, aside from funding to start the school's media center library.
She said her school, instead, will need to create earnest income for school-level initiatives and additional resources through fund-raising.
Fund-raising and the school's well-being, she said, will require an increased involvement among the school's parents and partners in education.
"My biggest question [from parents] is about making sure parents' kids are going to be challenged," Flemister-Bell said. "A part of my vision was making sure the kids are going to have high expectations academically and behaviorally - high expectations for all students and high standards for all students."
In addition to Rocky Creek Elementary and Hampton Middle, Henry County Schools also plans to open Locust Grove middle and high schools for the 2009-10 school year. Clayton County Schools plans to open Charles R. Drew High School this fall.