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Language academy could be permanent home for much traveled South Hall students

POSTED: January 20, 2008 5:04 a.m.

A group of South Hall families who have seen their children moved in and out of three elementary districts over this decade could find a home in Hall County’s new World Languages Academy.

The students, in area stretching from Royal Lakes Golf and Country Club in the south to Johnson High School in the north, attended Chestnut Mountain Elementary School originally before they were moved to Martin Elementary School and then Chicopee Woods Elementary School.

When the school system began talking last year about new attendance lines to accommodate the opening of the new Chestnut Mountain Elementary off Winder Highway, Royal Lakes residents stepped forward to see if boundary lines could be changed for them as well.

The new academy will occupy Chestnut Mountain Elementary, which is moving into a new building off Union Church Road.

In a Dec. 10 public hearing at Flowery Branch High School, two Royal Lakes residents told the Hall County Board of Education that parents were unhappy with test scores at Chicopee Woods Elementary.

One resident, Susan Wentz, said that some "have taken their children to other schools, some private."

"There are two things we don’t think you can separate — quality of education and the effect on property values in our neighborhood," she added.

At Monday night’s school board work session, Superintendent Will Schofield said that board members asked school officials to look at the entire area, including much of Poplar Springs Road.

About 220 students from the area attend Chicopee Woods, he added.

"We’ve said all along that the new World Languages school would be a school of choice. We’re not going to make anyone go there and we don’t want to change that," Schofield said.

"There is the possibility of ... letting (the 220 displaced students’) home school be the World Languages Academy and if they want to opt out, let them go back to their current school (Chicopee Woods)," he said.

Schofield said the move would allow the district to possibly relieve "severely overcrowded" conditions at Jones Elementary School, which is in the Chicopee Village community off Atlanta Highway.

The moves wouldn’t have any bearing on proposed attendance boundaries for the new Chestnut Mountain school, which is being built to relieve overcrowding at Friendship and Spout Springs elementary schools.

Schofield has said he expects that the school board would approve redrawing lines no later than February.

Richard Higgins, board chairman, said he believes the Royal Lakes group has been moved "more than any other group in Hall County."

"I think that (the World Languages Academy) option would be a good thing," he said.

In a presentation earlier in the meeting by academy officials, the school plans on holding informational hearings on Jan. 17, 24, 28, 31, Feb. 11 and 21. Pre-enrollment can start as early as Jan. 17.

World Languages Academy would feature a "dual-languages immersion" program featuring instruction of the state-required curriculum in two languages, English and Spanish, beginning with kindergarten and first grade.

Second through fifth grades would receive Mandarin Chinese "and other rigorous exploratory classes," as well as some Spanish instruction, said David Moody, the district’s director of elementary schools who will serve as the school’s principal in the first year.

Hall County schools is seeking charter status for the academy from the state Department of Education. School officials hope the state Board of Education will decide on the charter at its March meeting.



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