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Brenau Academy changes give kids head start in college
Displaced faculty upset at how they heard the news
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When students begin class at Brenau Academy this fall, they will not have the option to take typical high school level courses. Instead, they will be dual-enrolled at Brenau University.

"There are plenty of other schools that do this. A lot of public schools have dual enrollment," Brenau University President Ed Schrader said. "The difference is that not being a public school, we're not subject to the requirement where the students also have to be enrolled in an accredited high school."

Schrader said the dual-enrollment curriculum, known as early college, was thought of as a collegiate jump-start rather than skipping two years of high school.

"This is truly a full immersion into the college experience," said Lenna Applebee, assistant dean for the Academy. "We have seen a trend in my tenure where girls were coming to the Academy specifically for access to college classes."

She said that ideally students will complete their last two years at the Academy and graduate with both a high school diploma and an Associate of Arts in Liberal Studies degree from the university.

The idea for early college came about two years ago when Schrader said administrators began watching the consistent decline in Academy enrollment. A committee was created to research alternatives to the existing single-gender boarding school. Early college was determined to be the best option.

"It was costing us a great deal more money (to run the Academy) than it was making," Schrader said.

"We won't have any faculty teaching Academy-only courses."

The only Academy employees remaining under the early college program will be staff in agencies such as student housing, student life and student affairs, along with Applebee.

Former faculty members expressed sadness and disappointment at the changes, which Schrader called "a natural feeling."

"A fine faculty has been disbanded, yet most of the teachers have advanced degrees and are qualified to teach at the college," James Griffin, a former Academy teacher and basketball coach, said in an email to The Times. "This is a great loss."

Though Schrader contended early college was not in any way shutting down the Academy, not everyone agrees.

"Back in March they sent an email on the alumnae list. It was very ambiguous," alumnae Edith Barnes said. "I looked further and found they're basically closing the Academy. They're only staying the Academy in name."

Karen Booth, wife of former Academy Headmaster Frank Booth, said the Academy powerfully affected her family and the students. She said she is sad no more girls will be able to have the same experience.

"Reorganized out of existence describes perfectly the method the university used to close the Academy," Booth wrote in an email to a former Academy professor. "The red-headed step-child they were never quite sure they wanted is gone."

Under the early college program, students will no longer be able to attend the Academy unless they have already received two years worth of high school credit. Schrader said this means that, except in rare cases, freshmen and sophomores will not be part of the Academy demographic.

Barnes, a Watkinsville resident who attended the Academy between 1992 and 1995, said a friend of hers was in this situation.

"She's going to have to go back to the Ukraine," Barnes said. "There's no place for her at the new thing because she's not old enough."

Applebee said Academy staff worked with students to determine what was best for them, whether they should remain at the Academy next year if they were old enough, and if not, where they could go. She said other area boarding schools sent representatives to the Academy to talk to students, and all of them had a new school for next year, though not all were able to stay in Georgia.

"We really tried to make it as seamless and easy as possible for students and families," Applebee said.

As far as the displaced faculty goes, Applebee said their contracts were simply not renewed for next year.

"There's really no formal placement process, but we offered them our full support," she said.

Former staff and alumnae expressed concern over how the change was announced.

"I heard about change afoot on Facebook a few months ago," Griffin said. "I visited Brenau's website, and it contained little information about what is planned and a scarcely a word about the pending loss of a school and way of life. It bothered me that the end of something good would be announced without an detailed and exciting plan for something else."

Don Griner was the Academy's photographer for 25 years and only learned about early college six weeks ago.

"The alumnae I still am in touch with, they said they were told there would be a change in direction, but not what that change was or how it was taking place," Griner said.

He said even though he was not a staff member or student, he felt a part of the Academy family and hoped his services could be used under the new plan.

Applebee said she feels like she is straddling two worlds as early college comes into its transition period - that of the 82-year history of the Academy, and that of its future.

"I understand this emotionality for the alumnae. They're feeling that sense of loss for their Brenau experience," she said. "I'm very excited about what's coming. What's coming can be just as awesome and amazing as their experience, but in a different way."


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