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Centennial shows off for state educators
Norma Marie Tucker with the city of LaGrange talks with Centennial Arts Academy kindergartner Warrick Thompson, 6, during class Wednesday. Education leaders from across the state are visiting outstanding schools in Georgia. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

A bus load of educators from across the state stopped at Centennial Arts Academy to get a look a what’s working in Georgia schools.

About 70 educators, business, government and community leaders spent an afternoon at Centennial on Wednesday to spread the charter school’s best teaching practices and to celebrate students’ achievement on state tests. Centennial is one of six schools where the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education bus stopped during its three-day tour that ends today.

Steve Dolinger, president of the Georgia Partnership, said Centennial was selected because of its success in integrating arts into every aspect of the curriculum. Centennial’s state standardized test scores for 2009 show 94 percent of third-graders met or exceeded state reading standards and 90 percent of fifth-graders met or exceeded state math standards.

"What they are doing is certainly getting results," he said. "They have made Adequate Yearly Progress for eight
consecutive years and are exceeding state averages in every standardized test score category. This is a good news story."

Dolinger said the annual tour gives "influencers" a personal look at a wide range of programs. More than 250 schools have been showcased since the tour began in 1993. This year’s tour theme is "Georgia’s Public Schools: Achieving Results through Innovation."

The bus also stopped at Unity Elementary in LaGrange, W.L. Parks Middle in Atlanta, Amana Academy in Alpharetta, Morgan County High in Madison and at the Georgia Early College program at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville. More than 60 schools were nominated for the tour.

Bill Maddox, communications director for the Georgia Partnership, said the bus tour aims for participants to spread the wealth of instructional knowledge across the state that is showcased at the tour’s featured schools. He said educators and community leaders watched Centennial students sing songs about the scientific method, perform movement pieces to learn about photosynthesis and were inspired by teachers’ dedication and students’ love for school.

"Our hope is they will take that back to their school or school system and say, ‘I’ve seen this work. Why can’t we do it here?’" he said of tour participants.

Julia Bernath, a member of the Fulton County Board of Education, said her system has multiple arts-focused schools but she learned at Centennial that all subjects can be enlivened by the arts, even science.

"They’ll never forget the scientific method now because of the creative keys they used to make (their song)," she said. "... This is obviously a place where students and teachers want to be every day."

Kristen Drake, a second-grade teacher at Vanderlyn Elementary in DeKalb County, said she’s excited to be on the bus tour because she believes educators don’t share enough of their teaching secrets. The swapping of secrets is mutual, however. Drake shared with Centennial teachers her method of using a paperless classroom to integrate more technology and reduce waste.

"Because you’re sharing an idea you’re going to be helping 20 more kids succeed in school," she said.

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