Houston schools to implement some changes this year

jmink@macon.comJuly 27, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- It’s that time of year in Houston County. Parents are stuffing backpacks and purchasing lunch boxes. Teachers are putting the finishing touches on classroom decorations and preparing lessons. And students are preparing for changes to their routine. As many move up a grade, some go to a new school and some go to school for the first time.

As school begins in Houston County on Thursday, students are not the only ones facing changes. Districtwide shifts will be in place, from new gifted education classes to a new academy.

Gifted classes now all day

In Houston elementary schools, students will be grouped differently based on their learning levels. For the first time, gifted and high achieving students will be in advanced classes all day, each day.

It’s a change officials put in place to better serve gifted students and decrease classroom disruption.

“We’ve got students who are reading one, two, three, four and five levels ahead of their class,” said Jan Jacobsen, district director of gifted education.

In the past, students would be pulled from their classrooms once a week to take gifted lessons, missing work in their regular classes. Some students were even transported to different schools.

Now there will be a gifted class for each grade in every elementary school. It’s the same model that has been implemented in middle and high schools. About 110 teachers were seeking their gifted education endorsement at the end of last school year; educators can teach gifted classes as long as they are pursuing that endorsement.

Edge Academy to help students catch up

While some students will be grouped into new classes, others will be going to a new academy in an attempt to meet their goals.

The Edge Academy opens Thursday for high school students in Houston County who are four or more credits behind. It’s a way for those students to catch up and graduate. Students will take courses on computers, which will allow them to complete class work at their own pace. Many students will be able to finish courses more quickly, and they can see the results of their work immediately on the computer, officials say.

The academy, which is located in a wing of the Elberta Center, initially will be open to 120 students who are behind in at least one of the core subjects: math, science, social studies and language arts. Teachers will aid students in each subject.

“This is my third year in this position,” said Eric Payne, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, “and, to me, this is probably the most exciting thing I’ve seen in three years.”

The Edge Academy will not be the only new school in Houston County. Students from Linwood Elementary School will move into the new C.B. Watson Primary School this year while Linwood is being renovated. Also, it is the last year for students in the current Pearl Stephens Elementary and Perry Primary schools. Next year, Pearl Stephens students will be split between C.B. Watson and the renovated Linwood -- which will be renamed Pearl Stephens -- and Perry Primary students will move into the new Langston Road Elementary School.

Other changes

The district implemented other changes last academic year, which are expected to carry over into the new school year.

A new program, which allows students to use their personal smart devices in class, was piloted in a few classrooms at the end of last academic year and is expected to soon be available throughout the district.

Students use iPads, iPods and smartphones to complete class work, which is tailored for such devices.

Additionally, workers began last academic year installing cameras on school bus arms. The cameras, which also will be utilized this school year, take photographs of vehicles that violate the stop arms.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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