Education

Macon's Cirrus Academy has leader, on target for Aug. 1 opening

New leader talks about Macon's Cirrus Academy

Teresa Yarber, former principal in Bibb County, was announced as the first school leader for Macon's Cirrus Academy.
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Teresa Yarber, former principal in Bibb County, was announced as the first school leader for Macon's Cirrus Academy.

School leader Teresa Yarber is excited to get to work for Cirrus Academy, Macon's third charter school.

Introduced at a news conference Wednesday, Yarber began full-time work with the school Monday.

"Parents, this is a phenomenal opportunity for you. This is a wonderful opportunity for your kids," she said.

The school, scheduled to open in August, will have a STEAM focus -- science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. While initiatives targeting traditional STEM areas have become commonplace in schools, Yarber said the added arts element would have more intangible benefits for the students.

"With arts, we will build our students' confidence and self-esteem," she said.

The STEM efforts can't be ignored either, though, said Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert, who was among local leaders who attended the event. Those areas of learning, he said, feed more directly into the jobs created by companies that have come or could come to the area in the future.

Having schools focused on those academic fields "bodes very well" for Macon, he said.

"That's why I'm here. We've got to build tomorrow's workforce."

Reichert also praised the school for bringing "options and opportunities" to the area.

"Families are looking for an institution that will have the STEAM, ... which is the way of the future."

Sheldon Hart, chairman of Cirrus Academy's governing board, said the building would be ready for occupancy by June after an estimated $7 million worth of construction work to convert the old Hamilton Elementary School site for use.

While he said the Unionville neighborhood would benefit from the school, the state-approved charter will have a wider attendance zone than traditional charters and can accept students from across the state.

Even though Cirrus is still a public school, it answers to state officials instead of the Bibb school board, unlike Macon Charter Academy and the Academy for Classical Education.

"We're focusing on the areas immediately surrounding Bibb County," Hart said, also noting that the school's organizers had already discussed opening other Cirrus locations "years down the road" once this school establishes itself.

Yarber's blend of experience was attractive to Hart and fellow board members. She has served as a public school principal in both Bibb and Peach counties, directed programs in the Twiggs County school system and also headed up an educational consulting firm in the private sector.

That mix is important for running a charter school, where a school leader might have more diverse responsibilities than the traditional school principal. That could include interacting directly with state officials and investments firms such as Highmark School Development, which is backing both Cirrus and MCA.

"It was critical to get someone with her expertise," Hart said.

For Yarber's part, she was intrigued by the chance to lead a school in its first year. Cirrus is expected to have an enrollment of 618 students in kindergarten through eighth grade for the 2016-17 school year, then add a grade each year after that until it expands to a K-12 school.

That will be a different experience than what new principals face at existing schools in established school systems.

"Here, we get to build it from the ground up," Yarber said.

Parents will have through May 14 to apply to Cirrus Academy, with applications available online at www.cirruseducation.org. If the application numbers exceed the school's capacity, Yarber said there would be a public lottery to determine the school's final enrollment.

Board member Michael Jordan said bringing Yarber in was a major step toward opening Aug. 1.

"The ball really starts to get rolling now," he said.

To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331 or find him on Twitter@MTJTimm.

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