New ninth grade academy to be established at CHS

A new ninth grade academy is being established at Cairo High School to open in the fall. Parents of eighth grade students at Washington Middle School, Shiver Elementary School and Whigham Elementary School are invited to an upcoming open house at Cairo High School to learn more about the change.
Cairo High School Principal Chris Lokey updated the Grady County Board of Education on the plan Tuesday night and also issued an invitation to parents of eighth grade students in Grady County to attend the upcoming second semester open house to be held on Monday, Jan. 30 beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the high school auditorium.
“This will be an opportunity for parents to come and learn more about the ninth grade academy and ask any questions they might have,” Principal Lokey said.
The high school will send home flyers advertising the open house to students currently enrolled in the eighth grade beginning next week in hopes of attracting a large crowd for the information session.
A ninth grade academy is not a new concept, and according to Lokey, has been in consideration at CHS since 2013.
The CHS principal reviewed the history of the project for school board members this week. More than three years ago, a team of local educators journeyed to Nashville, Tenn., to the Academies of Nashville as part of the planning for the College and Career Academy at CHS.
Lokey said one thing that all of the academies of Nashville schools had in common was a ninth grade academy.
Grady County educators have also toured and met with administrators, teachers and students at ninth grade academies in White and Lee counties in Georgia to learn more about the concept.
Lokey said through analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats at CHS, teachers noted the struggle ninth grade students have transitioning from middle school to the high school level.
Dr. Kermit Gilliard, superintendent of Grady County Schools concurred, saying, “Many of our 9th graders need the boundaries the academy will place on the students. The students currently report to the high school from the middle schools where they were told almost every move and enter high school and have freedom to roam the entire campus and take classes with students in all grades, 10, 11, and 12.”
Lokey formed a ninth grade academy steering committee, chaired by CHS economics instructor Del Bibles, to determine the need for such an academy at the high school.
“Listening to teacher input from their own classes, and looking at the data, we found that there is an absolute need for a ninth grade academy at Cairo High School in order to give our students the best support that we possibly can academically, socially, and preparing them for post-secondary options such as college, technical school, the military or entering the workforce,” Lokey said.
According to the CHS principal, common themes that supported the local need for the academy include:
A high number of failure and discipline incidences that occur at the ninth grade level.
A need to decrease the dropout rate and increase the graduation rate.
A need for a structured plan in choosing a college or career pathway beginning in the ninth grade year through small group counseling sessions.
Implementation of Syrupmaker 101, a class where ninth grade students are taught the importance of high school credits and remaining on track for graduation, study skills, school rules and procedures, and the expectation of all Syrupmakers.
Smaller learning environments to create and foster relationships between ninth grade teachers and ninth grade students.
Focus on promotion rate from ninth to 10th grade just as the school does for seniors to graduation.
For the last year-and-a-half, the steering committee has met weekly to discuss curriculum, instruction, potential roadblocks, logistics, scheduling and academy structure.
Steering committee chairman Del Bibles told school board members that through the process of evaluating and considering the need for a ninth grade academy, the committee initially “stepped on a few toes with our teachers.”
However, Bibles said as local educators talked, and even argued, nearly 97 percent voted in support of moving forward with the creation of the ninth grade academy this fall.
“The few who are not on board are leaving or retiring. The others saw a need. They have read the research and are supportive,” Bibles said.
The CHS economics instructor said the concept has been planned and talked about for years, but he credited Principal Lokey for “finally putting it all together.”
Bibles informed the board about his inspection of a ninth grade academy in Lee County where he not only spoke with the people school officials there planned for him to meet, but he also met and talked with students who were not selected by the Lee County officials.
According to Bibles, Lee County officials have seen discipline incidents reduced while test scores and pass rates have improved.
“Some teachers will be forced out of their comfort zone, but we need to do different things,” Bibles said.
CHS faculty member Jesse Woodcock also shared with the board members his findings from a visit to a ninth grade academy in White County. During his visit Woodcock met with with an administrator who had been a teacher at the academy when it was established 10 years ago. Woodcock told board members that community and student reaction initially was guarded and some were opposed, but as time has gone on the community has become supportive and students like the concept.
In White County, they realized a decrease in attendance issues and lower dropout rates. Woodcock described the academy as a cornerstone of the White County School System.
Lastly, CHS Assistant Principal Chief Andrew Jones, who is in charge of ninth grade discipline at the high school, addressed the board and shared his assessment of the ninth grade academy.
According to Chief Jones, 40 percent of all discipline incidents involve ninth graders. Three times more than seniors and twice as much as juniors. “Needless to say, I stay gainfully employed handling ninth grade discipline,” Chief Jones said.
Jones said the ninth grade academy would afford the school system the opportunity to focus on small learning groups. He said when students have trouble in English or math they can be taught, but when students have trouble with behavior the answer is to discipline them. According to the CHS assistant principal, the school system must teach children to behave.
“It’s sad to say, but a lot of children don’t get it at home,” Chief Jones said. He said the schools must do more to encourage good behavior, discourage bad, and teach them to exercise conflict resolution in an effort to prepare children for the “real world.”
Jones said that children who struggle with behavior issues in the ninth grade sometimes never recover and eventually fail or drop out of school.
Dr. Gilliard praised the steering committee for its work on the academy. “This academy will look a little like the middle school teaming concept and a little like high school. The goal is to see each 9th grader who enrolls walk across the stage and receive a diploma in four years. We think this is a step in that direction,” Gilliard said.
Board member Laura Register asked where the new academy would be located. Principal Lokey said the second wing of the high school would be set up as the home of the new academy with some science labs on the first wing being utilized as part of the academy.
Ninth graders will have their own lunch period, but would interact with older students in elective courses and extra curricular classes. Lokey said that students taking AP courses would also be involved in classes with older students.
School officials had hoped to implement the new ninth grade academy concept this school year, but postponed it one year for additional study, according to Lokey.
“We’re excited about it,” Lokey said.
Board Vice Chairman John White asked if all ninth graders would be required to attend the academy. Lokey said only true ninth graders would attend the academy and students repeating the ninth grade would not be academy students.
Board member Jeff Worsham asked if there were sufficient classrooms on the second wing to accommodate the different academic levels of courses offered to high school students and Lokey said that there is and noted that work on registering the upcoming ninth graders was already in process.
“All of this is possible due to a lot of hard work by our teachers and great leaders on the steering committee,” Principal Lokey told board members Tuesday night.
The CHS principal said the academy will foster a team approach between teachers, parents and students. He said teachers will be better able to monitor their student’s progress and help make them more successful in school.
“We would encourage all parents to come learn more on Jan. 30,” Lokey said.

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