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Hall proposes self-directed programs for high schools
Drew Rogers teaches an International Baccalaureate math class Monday at Johnson High School. Johnson plans to create a Da Vinci cohort, which would be like a “school within a school,” to serve incoming students who have attended rigorous schools of choice such as Da Vinci Academy. The program would help prepare students to enter the International Baccalaureate program by their junior year. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Traditional high schools are working to meet the needs of a new breed of students — those graduating from the county’s schools of choice that focus on self-direction.

“There is a healthy pressure put on high schools to decide, ‘What are you going to do with children coming out of Da Vinci Academy?’” Superintendent Will Schofield said of one those schools of choice.

Monday night, the school board approved proposals from three local high schools aimed at addressing the issue.

The programs were described as “a school within a school.” The high schools will continue to offer traditional classes but also will include niche programs geared toward students’ strengths and interests.

Sally Krisel, director of innovative and advanced programs for Hall County, said the programs were inspired by the Da Vinci Academy and other similar programs in Hall County. Da Vinci is a program for kindergarten through eighth grades that uses student interest in the arts and sciences as the foundation for advanced learning in all content areas. The school focuses on smaller class sizes and self-directed learning, and the proposals Monday included the same.

Chestatee High School plans to develop a program called Renaissance Academy for Creative Enterprises. It would allow students to take college courses at the high school through a cohort set up by North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega.

“They said the goal is that students will complete their freshman year of college by the time they graduate high school,” Krisel said.

The program would be inquiry based and focus on technology. The school will begin accepting applications in February.

At West Hall High School, school leaders hope to create a program called the Innovation Institute. According to the proposal, students would continue to learn holistically, just as they did at Da Vinci Academy. The five classes would be taught by gifted-endorsed teachers, who plan to visit Da Vinci for inspiration this year.

Another component of the program is a plan for an Innovation Research Facility, which will be housed inside the school, Krisel said. The room will be outfitted with iPads, state of the art software and research material such as science probes.

Krisel said funds already were secured for the facility, and it will be available to all West Hall students.

The program will begin in the fall for about 25 freshman.

Johnson High School also made a proposal to the board Monday to expand an already existing program. Last year, the school developed the International Scholars Academy. The proposal Monday was to include a Da Vinci cohort, Krisel said.

The program at Johnson gives students an “international experience,” Carter said. The curriculum last year was based on five regions of the world. If the focus was Africa, for example, student may learn about African authors in an English class or the history of the region in a world history class, he said.

He explained that the lessons prepare students for a world studies track or the International Baccalaureate program by their junior year.

The Da Vinci program encouraged school leaders to engage students in a new way, Carter said.

“Before, high schools said this is what we’ve got and here’s where you fit. But now students want to know ‘What do you have to offer?’” Jason Carter, assistant principal of Johnson High School, said. “There’s a demand for different pathways for students who want rigorous coursework to get them prepared for college at an early age.”

The programs may have been inspired by Da Vinci and schools of choice in the district, but Krisel said anyone is free to apply.

She adds that each of the programs are expected to be implemented with little to no cost.

“It’s not our intent to put in programs that depend on a high infusion of cash,” she said.

Schofield said he was impressed by the solutions the school leaders presented.

“I haven’t seen anything tonight that would be a deal breaker,” he said, before the board unanimously approved the programs.

Krisel said school leaders hope their entire schools, and others across the district, will benefit from the new programs.

“They hope it will serve as a catalyst for innovative learning for all students,” she said.

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