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Clayton County charter school is a Georgia School of Excellence

Elite Scholars Academy Principal Shonda Shaw, left, and Assistant Principal Sam West stand in front of a bulletin board in the school lobby. It contains school-wide testing data and goals. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

Elite Scholars Academy Principal Shonda Shaw, left, and Assistant Principal Sam West stand in front of a bulletin board in the school lobby. It contains school-wide testing data and goals. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

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Elite Scholars Academy pupils review their academic goals this week. Students at the start-up charter school began class July 15 and go to school on a year-round calendar.

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Students do group work at Elite Scholars Academy, which was recently recognized as a 2012 Georgia School of Excellence. It is one of the state’s top-performing schools. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)

MORROW — The school custodian rushed out the morning after and posted the message that read “2012 Georgia School of Excellence.”

Administrators at Elite Scholars Academy in Morrow learned this week that the school was deemed one of the best in Georgia and one of only 14 recognized statewide.

The school is a start-up charter in its fifth year in Clayton County Public Schools. It was recognized as the highest achieving school in the 13th Congressional District, which encompasses portions of Cobb, Clayton, DeKalb, Douglas, Fulton and Henry counties.

The recognition, part of a statewide program sponsored by Georgia Natural Gas and United Healthcare, is based on the state’s 2012 College and Career-Ready Performance Index scores and comes from the Georgia Department of Education.

As one of the state’s top-performing schools, Elite Scholars Academy will receive a $1,000 check from Georgia Natural Gas.

Principal Dr. Shonda Shaw said she was humbled by the honor.

“I am grateful for all the hard work of our students, our teachers and our parents,” she said. “This has been a combined effort of home and school working together for greater student achievement.”

Shaw said she believes the recognition is also “the result of a strong collaborative partnership among our school, our governance council and the school district.”

She said parents are also instrumental.

“We expect parents to be involved in the school,” Shaw said. “We need them because everybody has a role to play. I tell people that it is really a partnership with our district, our homes and our school working together.”

Elite Scholars Academy has been consistently one of the highest-performing public schools in metro Atlanta since it opened.

School is 183 instructional days per year, Shaw said, adding the year-round calendar helps with knowledge retention.

The sixth through 12th-grade charter school enrolls students randomly from across Clayton County through an annual lottery. Enrollment is at about 560 students out of more than 1,200 who enter the lottery each year.

“We service all students,” said Shaw. “We have orientation for students and parents. We let them know, ‘your kids are going to work and they may have more homework.’

“Some decide it’s not for them,” she continued. “But most of the kids that come have already bought into it. This is a chance and a choice at something different. That’s what all charter schools are, a chance and a choice.”

Shaw said teachers and staff get the same briefing on the school’s mission and vision.

“We hire good people, and we work together for a common goal,” she said. “I tell teachers before I hire them 100 percent is not good enough. We want 110 percent effort.”

She credits their hard work, students’ hard work and parental involvement for the school’s high achievement rates.

Shaw said the mission is not just to have all students pass state assessments — in most subject areas the school’s pass rates are above 95 percent. But she said the school’s goal is to have 100 percent of its students exceed state standards.

Elizabeth Cooper’s seventh-grade social studies class posted an 80 percent exceeds rate on the 2012 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, which is a higher exceeds rate than even the school district’s pass rate. She said her goal this year is to make it 100 percent.

State School Superintendent John Barge said this year’s Schools of Excellence have managed to continue to perform well academically in the face of new academic measures and increased standards.

“It took us a while to name the 2012 Schools of Excellence, but we wanted to measure based on our College and Career Ready Performance Index rather than the old measure,” Barge said. “With our new, more rigorous accountability system, these schools really shine. These schools are the epitome of excellence.”

Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Luvenia Jackson said she was proud of the students and staff at Elite Scholars Academy.

“I commend our students for their hard work and their commitment to doing their best,” said Jackson. “I also commend the school’s instructional staff for their effort and dedication to preparing these students to successfully receive a globally competitive education. This award truly demonstrates that great things are happening throughout Clayton County Public Schools.”