Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
Shonda Shaw, the new principal of The Elite Scholars Academy Charter School, said there is one big difference between working in Clayton County Public Schools' Central Administration Complex, and in a school building -- children.
Shaw, an 18-year employee of the district, spent the last six years as the school system's coordinator of secondary language arts, before replacing Graysen Walles as Elite Scholars' lead administrator earlier this month. The school, which operates year-round, with three-week breaks spread throughout the year, began its second year of operation on Monday.
Prior to being a coordinator for the district, Shaw worked her way up the ranks from classroom teacher, to department chairperson, to assistant principal. During the last six years in the district's central office, she said, the only time she was around children was whenever she went out to school's on site visits.
One of the things she has to get reacquainted with at Elite Scholars is being around youths throughout the day.
"I can sit here in my office, and hear all of their laughs, and all of their conversations, in the hallway," she said as students moved through the academy's hallways between classes. "It's been wonderful, just wonderful. That's the difference between the central office, and the school. There are no children in the central office."
As Shaw gets used to life in a school environment again, she will have to lead the school through some changes, including its addition of a ninth-grade. The school is also scheduled to move in September, to a new home in the soon-to-be old Morrow Middle School building.
Shaw said her main focus, however, will be on upholding the academic standards that have already been established at the school. Since the school started, every student has taken Honors and Advanced Placement courses. The school's vision and mission, in a nutshell, she said, is to "prepare students to be globally competent and competitive."
Shaw said she sees her job as being able to preserve the standards that have already been set, and to build on any areas where the school has room for growth. She said she has told teachers that the four areas where she wants the school to place its academic focus are: rigor, relevance, relationships and results.
"I want to embrace the culture that is here, and then prepare to move these students to the next level," she said.
She said teachers use a "rigor meter" that was developed in recent years by some of her former colleagues at the academic-coordinator level in the district. The meter has four rigor areas, ranging from students recalling information they learn in class, to understanding it, to eventually being able to apply it.
But, Shaw also said there are other ways she wants to give Elite Scholars Academy students a well-rounded education. "I want the students to be involved in service-learning projects, in travel, and I want them to be able to connect with other students globally," she said. "We've got to move the students beyond the walls of this school.
"We've got to move them to interact with students from other countries, if we we're going to be true to the vision and mission, and have them be globally competent and competitive."
Elite Scholars Academy In-School Suspension Paraprofessional Kenneth Hines said the consensus among faculty and staff is that having Shaw as their new principal is going to help the school move forward. "I can see her taking us to a whole new level," Hines said. "I think she's going to be a great asset. I think she's going to make our strong areas better, and our not-as-strong areas stronger."
The new principal's ultimate goal, she said, is to move Elite Scholars to a level where it is held in the same regard as the Ron Clark Academy, in Atlanta, a private school which has wealthy donors, including talk-show host, Oprah Winfrey.
"The major difference between us, and them, is that they are a private school, and have to rely on financial donations, whereas we are a public school," Shaw said. "I keep saying if I ever get the kind of financial support they have, though, just watch out for us."