By Katie Fallon
North Springs High School students will be greeted with more new surroundings than freshly decorated classrooms and the most recent faculty additions when they arrive for their first day of school on Monday. For the first time, the Sandy Springs high school will welcome its students as a charter conversion school.
In April, the Georgia Board of Education approved North Springs’ application to become a charter school. The Spartan community now joins a bigger club of charter schools in Sandy Springs that includes Ridgeview Middle School and Dunwoody Springs, Spalding Drive and Woodland Elementary Schools.
Becoming a charter school means North Springs is now allowed to implement a different curriculum and instructional and governance practices than what is allowed by the regular public school system. Because it remains a public school, North Springs will keep its traditional funding sources and attendance zones.
Dr. Vicky Ferguson, principal at North Springs for the last five years, said the school year marks the dawn of a new day. She said the charter employs a more project/problem-based classroom approach, with an overall theme of interdisciplinary instruction.
Ferguson said the move towards charter status is an effort to better prepare the students of today for the world of tomorrow.
“It was motivated by our understanding that these children who are in school now are going to need new skills for a new century,” she said. “Sometimes in schools, we continue to educate kids the way we educated them yesterday. We educate them for the past, not the future.”
The charter process began in the spring of 2005 when the North Springs faculty voted to spend a year researching the issue. Ferguson said that research included deciding what kind of student the school wanted to turn out after four years. Now, she said students will be better prepared for the real world that awaits them.
“What students will be expected to do in the real world is to be able to work in teams, to be able to think, analyze information, solve problems and do projects,” the principal said. “I can’t remember the last time someone handed me a paper and pencil test, but I solve problems everyday.”
In part because of the diversity and high mobility of the student population, Ferguson said seeking charter status has been a need in Sandy Springs.
“We look at our demographics, we look at our test scores and we ask how we can do better,” she said. “I think the charter affords us more flexibility.”
In the process of trying to raise the academic standards for all students, the Spartans will face a number of changes as the new school year gets underway.
First, all certified staff members will now be an advisor to about a dozen students. They will act as an advocate for that student throughout the year and advisory meetings will be held once a week. Ferguson said that ideally, students will have the same advisor throughout their time at North Springs.
“If there’s just one person in a building, one teacher who a student can go to, that student is more likely to be successful,” Ferguson said.
Another change will include the consequences of falling grades. If a student’s grade in a core subject drops below 75, they will be required to attend a tutorial. The session will help students organize their academic life and will take up half of their 48-minute lunch period.
Students must also participate in two extracurricular activities and parents are required to join the PTSA and complete 10 hours of volunteer time. The school will also be going from a block scheduling to an eight-period day, but that change was approved prior to charter status.
Feedback from both parents and faculty, Ferguson said, has been overwhelmingly positive. Eighty five percent of parents and 79 percent of teachers voted for charter conversion. Assistant principal Debra Mosely counts herself as a part of that approving percentage.
“We’re looking forward to [charter status],” Mosely said. “It’s a process, but it’s really exciting for us.”
Mosely is also excited about the large crop of new teachers the school will be welcoming this fall. Along with the new aspects of the charter, Mosely said the staff will also bring a fresh perspective to the halls of North Springs.
“It’s a really nice, new group,” Mosely said. “They’re very enthusiastic. We love to get those new, really enthusiastic ones come in with those good, new ideas. It refreshes us all.”
One final, change that will greet students on Aug. 13 is Ferguson herself.
The principal recently broke her leg in a fall while on vacation in Italy and will be navigating the Spartan hallways alternatively on crutches or in a wheelchair.
North Springs High School’s full charter can be viewed online at http://www.northspringshigh.com/home/nshsCharterFINAL92506.pdf.