From the essays, artwork and other student creations that adorn the walls of Alexander II Magnet School to quotes from school mascot Albert Einstein, students are challenged to aim high, Principal Cindy Canova said.
Year after year, those expectations pay off, with award after award for Bibb County’s math and science magnet school. Alexander II recently was named one of Georgia’s Schools of Excellence this year, one of just 26 in the state.
The school received the award for being among the state’s top 10 percent of schools based on reading and math assessments. It also had to make Adequate Yearly Progress for at least three years and either meet or exceed the state’s mean scores in science and social studies.
Alexander II -- the state’s first magnet school -- is no stranger to accolades. The school also was named a Georgia Public School of Excellence in 1984, 1993 and 2001, as well as a National Blue Ribbon School in 2006.
“To receive that kind of scores or accolades once is a thrill, but to be able to sustain that level of excellence over time, it really is a testament to the staff, the students, the leadership that came before me,” said Canova, who succeeded Linda Bivins as principal in July.
The school’s success comes from its history and expectations of excellence, math and science focus, and parental involvement, Canova said.
With high demand across the county to attend the school, Alexander II’s students are chosen by lottery.
The school received 467 applications for the 2012-13 school year for all grades, but only 77 prospective kindergartners were offered a spot earlier this month. Another 97 vying for kindergarten spots were put on a waiting list, and students in other grades may be admitted to the school if there is space.
The students that get into Alex II and their families all have one thing in common, said Jennifer McMahan, who teaches gifted students.
“They come with the expectation that education is so important,” she said. “That is the common thread -- education is the game changer.”
Math and science education
Through a magnet school grant, the school is able to hire a math and science specialist to run the school’s math and science labs. Students visit those labs at least once a week.
And it’s not busy work. Fifth-graders at Alexander II recently studied plant and animal cells under a microscope, for example, and made electromagnets.
The scientific emphasis permeates to other subjects as well. One social studies and writing teacher asked students to make and fly paper airplanes. Students studied the best of them -- and the worst -- and ended up writing their own paper airplane instructions.
Teachers use creative approaches for other subjects, too. Recently, third-graders played Bingo using facts about U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, while gifted first- and second-graders learned about William Shakespeare by creating and defining their own words, just as The Bard might have.
Student, parent involvement
Not only do students have high academic expectations, but they also take leadership roles at the school through Student Council, the safety patrol and other activities. A Legos robotics group grew to two teams this year because of high student interest.
“It’s like we’re role models,” said fifth-grader Carter Atkinson, a member of the safety patrol.
The school also has strong parental involvement, and Alexander II’s parents are required to volunteer there every quarter. That involvement is the school’s “biggest game changer,” Canova said.
“It helps their children to see that the parents think that school is important.”
The environment at the school makes it easy for parents to be involved, said Leslie Lowe Brown, a parent of two children there who also is a positive behavior support specialist and vice president of the school’s PTA.
Brown said she and her husband considered both public and private schools for their oldest son, now a fifth-grader. The level of student engagement in the classroom they saw made the difference for the Browns.
“It’s definitely an honor to be recognized by the state for our excellence. Excellence comes from the Alexander II community,” Brown said. “Everyone works together for one focus, for our children, for all our children.”
Alex II’s latest recognition will keep expectations high, both for those at the school as well as those in the community, Canova said.
“We do not intend to sit back and celebrate for very long. We’ll definitely have a big celebration at some point, but we know that the world around us continues to grow,” Canova said. “We want to make sure to push our students to be the brightest and the best.”
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.