Houston schools featured during chamber event

jmink@macon.comAugust 15, 2013 

WARNER ROBINS -- When Edge Academy opened in Warner Robins this school year, Houston County school officials hoped at least half the students would show up.

Because the school is the district’s new academy for high-schoolers who are behind in their class credits, officials were not sure how many of the 87 students would attend. Now, more than two weeks after school began, about 80 of those students are showing up every day, Superintendent Robin Hines said.

It was one update Hines gave Thursday during the Eggs and Issues event sponsored by the Robins Regional Chamber of Commerce. As guest speaker, Hines gave a rundown of last school year and the agenda for this year.

“This system is the envy of every school system,” said Sonya Jenkins, chamber vice chairwoman of government affairs and a Houston County schools alumna. “This system is not satisfied ... until every child is successful.”

That’s one reason school officials opened Edge Academy. In a wing of the Elberta Center, the academy helps students catch up by allowing them to complete classes online at their own pace. Those students are on the road to dropping out, and Edge Academy aims to catch them up and help them graduate.

“This gives them a real shot,” Hines said. “It’s going to positively affect our graduation rate, but more importantly it’s the right thing. ... This makes you sleep good at night.”

Because students can complete classes at their own pace -- and many already have sat through those courses in their home high schools but simply have not completed them -- some already have earned class credits, Hines said.

It’s one new way school officials are using technology. As part of the district’s education sales tax projects, officials have installed in schools 4,900 new computers, 904 interactive boards, 523 projectors, 998 document cameras, 53 portable interactive boards and about 1,000 audio systems. Additionally, 19 schools have received security vestibules that force visitors to go through the main office, extra security cameras and doors accessible by key cards, as well as heating and air-conditioning upgrades, Hines said.

Officials also put in place at the end of last year a new program that allows students to use their own smart devices in schools. It’s a way to give students more access to academic information while saving the district money, he said.

The district also has overhauled its gifted program, offering advanced classes this year to qualifying students all day, every day. Now, gifted and high-achieving students get advanced classes 180 days, compared with 32 days during past years. Additionally, with the help of a grant, officials are expanding the Advanced Placement program in high schools and middle schools. In fact, schools already have met this year’s goal of increasing AP enrollment in math, science and English by 75.6 percent, Hines said. The number of students who make good enough AP test scores to earn college credit is expected to increase by 127 percent over three years.

Still, Houston County’s average AP test score at 3.0 already trumps the state, national and global average, Hines said.

“One thing that makes our school system great is the support we receive from our community,” he said.

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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