Getting Back On Track at Forrest Hill Academy: Guest Blogger, David Jernigan, Deputy Superintendent

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260 students attend Forrest Hill Academy in grades 6-12.

Guest Blogger:  David Jernigan, Deputy Superintendent

I’ve been looking forward to learning more about the Forrest Hill Academy, an alternative school .  Throughout a school year, Forrest Hill Academy staff, especially Principal Howell, works intensely with about 260 students in grades 6-12 students to create an environment where kids are able to get back on track academically, recover lost credits and receive the emotional and behavioral help they need to return to their home schools.
The building is segmented into six, single gender learning spaces and the expectation is that students spend at least one semester here before returning to their previous school. The principal says that the biggest challenge this time of year is getting his kids back into the school building after a summer away from school. 
Students must attend school 85% of the school year before they are allowed to return to their zoned school, as well as meet other behavioral and academic thresholds.  Data from previous years shows that many students are returning to the school year after year instead of having a successful return to their home school.  In speaking with the Superintendent Carstarphen, I know this is something she wants us to fix. It is a clear that APS must do more bridge work for the returning student after working hard to get back on track at Forrest Hill Academy.
Principal Howell says that the highlight of the past 12 months has been the addition of virtual learning to the campus.

Principal Howell says that the highlight of the past 12 months has been the addition of virtual learning to the campus.

Principal Howell says that they highlight of the past school year was the addition of virtual learning to his campus.  In his words, “This place, the virtual lab, gives kids hope.  Virtual learning is recapturing students.”  Creating alternative pathways for learning will be key for our diverse learners. I had an opportunity to visit several high school classrooms.  One group was studying To Kill A Mockingbird while another classroom was engaged in a math lesson around math vocabulary.

Special attention will be paid this year to this alternative school learning model. Our new superintendent revamped the alternative school design in her last district with success, especially in the area of over identification of African-American boys and special education students to such designs. Further, there were reductions in suspensions districtwide. I know she will be raising this issue with APS.
While gains are being made here, I know that there is more we can do to teach and support many of our students at highest risk for dropping out of school in their home school before they need this intervention. I look forward to being part of the solution and using my own expertise from over a decade of experience leading a high quality schools right here in Atlanta. I’d like to thank all of the dedicated staff who serve to support these students every day in Forrest Hill Academy and shared so openly with me today.

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