ACE principal: Macon charter school making progress

The Academy for Classical Education is making more progress than school Principal Laura Perkins could have expected.

That was part of her message Monday while addressing the Macon Rotary Club.

“I’m amazed at how well it’s gone,” she said, pointing to both classroom work and extracurricular activities. “I’m most of all amazed at the joy I’ve seen in learning.”

Along with the vice chairman of the school’s governing board, Witt Gaither, Perkins spoke to the group about a variety of aspects of ACE’s operation. Gaither introduced Perkins, saying her passion for education and commitment to students make her an ideal administrator.

“She will make a difference in our community,” Gaither said. “The children who are educated at ACE will make a difference in our society.”

Among the chief differences between ACE and conventional public schools is flexibility in curriculum selection. While other schools are constrained to Common Core standards and other guidelines, ACE uses more established models like Saxon math programs and classical literature.

In response to a club member’s question, Perkins said ACE students also still learn cursive writing.

“We believe that the depth and rigor is really going to be successful for us,” she said.

Like their more mainstream counterparts in Bibb County, ACE students still will be required to take the new Georgia Milestones test this spring. Even though ACE teachers don’t teach directly for the test the way public schools are often criticized for doing, Perkins said she isn’t worried about the new test.

In fact, the free response nature and analytical thinking aspect of the Milestones assessments could be right up her students’ alley.

“I’m not concerned at all,” Perkins said. “These are the things we’re doing every day.”

Gaither and Perkins also spoke about the school’s lottery system. Because the school technically is a public school and receives public funding, there can be no selection process.

If there is more interest than open spots, as has been the case and will be again this year for kindergarten, there is a blind lottery. Based on the results of the lottery, entries are contacted in order until the goal number is met.

From that, the school has drawn a student body that is 73 percent white and 27 percent minority, even though the makeup of Bibb County is 53 percent black and a little more than 40 percent white, according to census data. Gaither said the student body was coming from all over the county, noting that one deterrent for many families was the school’s location in north Macon and lack of buses. He said a more centralized location had not been available.

“They’re coming from all four corners of the district,” Gaither said. “Bluntly, there wasn’t 40 acres available in downtown Macon.” Regarding the difference in funding for ACE, Gaither said that while public schools receive about $7,500 per child, ACE receives about $6,233 per child.

That means a lower salary for teachers, among other things, but the school still had 400 applicants for 58 jobs before it opened.

“What we hope that we assist the public school system in learning is that you can educate students for far less money,” he said.

The overall message of the talk had an impact on the club’s president. George Lee said he was “quite pleased” with the International Baccalaureate education his sons -- Bronson, now 35, and Jonathan, 28 -- received at Central High School but might have chosen a different path had ACE been around.

“If I were starting over, I would put my name in for the kids,” he said.

To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331.