Friday morning at a group of third graders and their principal are gathered around an artist’s rendering of the new Smyrna elementary school and it’s hard to say who’s more excited, the kids or Principal Brett Ward.
There’s an explosion of ‘whoas’ and ‘wows’ from Annabelle Terry, Hector Escobedo and Marquavius Chester Brown when their principal tells them the new school will have an elevator. Escobedo asks if he can bring his skateboard. Terry asks Ward if the office staff at Brown will move to the new school.
“Everybody’s going,” he said. “Ms. Cindy, Ms. Anna, Nurse Heather.”
And, Principal Ward is too. He and Brown’s entire staff plus some teachers from and will team up to man the new elementary school when it opens in August 2013. The school will enroll 900 students in its first year; three times more than the number of students who attend Brown.
A Bigger School
Some members of the Smyrna community have raised concerns about the size of the elementary school, but Ward said the new school will be similar in size to many of the other newer schools in Cobb County. He said leading a school of that size will pose a challenge, but he and his staff hope to foster the same sense of community they’ve cultivated at Brown.
“We hope to be able to carry that same feeling to the new school,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of effort on our part to continue to build that atmosphere and that climate at the school, but we just feel like it’s very important to know our kids and know our families and to build those relationships.”
Ward plans to use the same blueprint to build community at the new school that he did at Brown. This includes forming partnerships with the PTA and the business community. Each year Brown holds a back to school picnic at , an effort he’d like to continue, and a fall festival with .
The plan also includes getting to know the students and teachers. Ward said that at Brown he and the staff know all the students by name and a majority of their parents.
A New Location
and can accommodate up to 970 students. and was designed in a style similar to Smyrna’s Market Village. Some Smyrna residents have raised concerns about the school’s proximity to , the two campuses will back up to one another, but Ward views this as an opportunity.
“We have many teachers at Campbell whose children go here now and will be going to the new school,” he said. “So once again, the staff at Campbell have a vested interest in the new school as well. Many of the kids their younger brothers and sisters will go there and certainly they want that school to be the best that it can be. So we see it more as a partnership to engage both schools together.”
Ward said he’d eventually like set up a mentorship program where students from Campbell come to the new school to tutor the younger children. Ward has already collaborated with and Campbell High to create similar programs at Brown.
Ward asked Terry, Escobedo and Chester Brown how they felt about next year being their last at Brown. The school will close for renovations in May 2012 and open in January as the new campus for . By then the three students will be halfway through their fifth grade year at the new Smyrna school.
Ward said the closing will be bittersweet, but that he and the staff have a number of events planned to commemorate Brown’s final year as a traditional elementary school.
“What we’ve done is developed a committee that’s going to plan, basically everything that we can possibly celebrate for Brown next year,” he said. “We’re going to celebrate it. We had a 50th anniversary celebration five years ago and we’re going to have something along those lines so people can come back and see the school and tour the school and just kind of reminisce. But we’ll have lots of celebration next year, because this school has made many contributions to the community and to the lives of the kids and parents and teachers.”
Ward said he hopes the new school can have the same impact, but knows it can’t happen without the community’s help. He encouraged Smyrna residents to begin volunteering now at Brown, Belmont Hills or Argyle so that they’ll already be familiar with the students and staff when the new school opens.
“Then as we transition they can continue to be involved at the new school,” he said. “Not waiting till the new school is built, but taking those steps now so we can get involved with all three schools.”