Coffee County Schools prepare for opening of new ninth-grade school
Coffee County Central High School hallways become quite hectic during class change. With opening the new ninth-grade academy, over 300 freshmen will attend the satellite location. Coffee County Director of Schools Dr. LaDonna McFall said, “The realization of opening Coffee County Raider Academy will give our high school some flexibility in how they structure the school. The Academy will also foster the unique needs of our 9th grade students and ensure they have a successful start to their high school career.”
File photo by John Coffelt
It’s exciting to be on the ground level and build it the way you want to build it … I always think, what if it were my child, how would I want it arranged?”
–Angela Gribble, principal Coffee County Raider Academy
Administrators taking the helm at the soon-to-open ninth-grade Coffee County Raider Academy are holding a series of meetings next week at both middle schools to create a dialogue with parents and students informing them of the choices available as the school opens.
“Our goal in all this is to have the students make an informed decision on what they’re taking,” said Angela Gribble, principal Coffee County Raider Academy.
“Communication is key –keeping open lines of communication between the parents and us so that we’re both working towards a common goal of making the students successful.”
The Coffee County Middle School parent meeting will be held at 6 p.m., March 17, in the school cafeteria.
Westwood Middle School’s parent meeting will be at 6 p.m., March 18, in the school cafeteria. At both meetings, elective class teachers and clubs will have kiosks describing the courses. Student registration for the ninth grade will be at CCMS March 17-19 and at WMS March 20-21.
Gribble said at the parent meetings she will present research that points to benefits of the ninth-grade academy setup.
“There is a lot of research that shows us that you can improve test scores, the behavior of the students is better, you have a higher graduation rate of ninth graders – there is several research-based reasons to have a ninth-grade academy.
“All of those are so that we can have our ninth-grade students be more successful all through their high school years.”
She added that there is concern about eighth-graders who are unhappy about having to stay at the same campus rather than getting to move to the high school.
To address that concern, administrators at the ninth-grade academy will hold student introduction assemblies at the middle school.
Gribble said that parents have voiced concerns that the freshman class will be cutoff from possible advantages available at the high school.
“That’s not true at all. We’re going to offer a few more electives than they could have taken here as a ninth grader.”
Electives in the works are nutrition science (a P.E. elective), transportation core (an introduction into automotive Career and Technical Education classes), small animal care, computer application and business principles. Agra-science classes will also be available.
The school focus extends beyond electives to prepare the students for the remainder of high school.
“Our goal was to have every freshman leave us with six sets of required courses. Then they will have one option for an elective.”
Every student will have English, math, science, social studies, health and P.E.
“We are trying to offer a variety so that those can count towards their programs of study which they will start their sophomore year,” said ninth-grade counselor Connie Heatherly.
The variety early on aims to give students time to change track before getting too far along.
“Everything that we are offering can and would be used as a requirement to graduate.”
Gribble added that electives should not be used simply to fill an open slot, but that electives should be something with purpose behind them that students can apply.
Gribble also explained that once a week, students will have freshmen-experience class during remediation time to discuss developing students’ four-year plan, enhancing academic résumés and career exploration.
“Guest speakers can come in different career areas and students can see firsthand some of the opportunities that will be available for them when they’re deciding their coursework for their remaining years of high school.
One program that will carry over from the middle school is Positive Behavior Support in which the freshman population will be divided into academic teams.
The three teams will allow teachers to be attuned to students’ needs.
“Each of those teams will have core teachers,” Gribble said. “That means those groups will have 150 kids in each team.”
Those teachers will better “hone in” on 150 students than the whole student body, and the students would better connect with someone at school.
Heatherly compares the teams to three little schools inside one big school.
Gribble said that the Raider Academy will look to the high school for a program similar to the Renaissance Program.
“We’re going to have our own version of that.”
The AG-science department will also help with the city’s community farm in the lot adjacent to Highway 55 and Waite St., and the school will have similar programs as the high school’s heath cart, which makes nutritious snacks available, and general store that offers clothes, hygiene items an school supplies to students less fortunate.
“We have people bring in clothes, shoes, toiletries, any items that they don’t need. If we have kids in need, we let them go to the general store and let them try on clothes,” Heatherly said.
The administrators have applied for grants to help with these programs as well as start a backpack program for the academy that will send home kid-friendly meals for low-income students who would otherwise miss meals when not at school.
The ninth-grade academy will be considered a satellite school, keeping the same student handbook and bell schedule as the high school.
“We’re in the planning stages right now for the ninth-grade academy, Gribble said. “We’ve had several meetings at central office to discuss staff transfers, because we’re going to take existing teachers from [Central High School]. [Director of School] Dr. [LaDonna] McFall feels that since we’re not going to have any additional students, we’re not going to hire any additional teachers either.”
She said that it has been a collaboration between her and CHS principal Joey Vaughn to “do what’s best for both schools.”
That means walking a tightrope of who gets whom.
“We don’t want to take all the good teachers to the ninth-grade academy, but we don’t want to leave them all here either. We want to get a healthy balance so that both schools can be the best that they can be,” she said.
The timeline for the transition calls for all ninth-grade classroom supplies be boxed for transport on the last day of school.
“The plan now is the middle school people will move to the new middle school June 1. And our projected move date is June 16. We have a labeling system in place.”
Terri Petersen will be the Raider Academy assistant principal.
To support the computer labs, CCMS is getting an infrastructure upgrade during the “facelift” that will also in part include a new sign and fix some drop ceiling issues.
Each team will have a dedicated lab and common area.
“When those teams have planning, the students are going to be in a related arts class or elective class,” Gribble said. “That gives [teachers] the opportunity to meet together and pull students in … if there’s disciplinary issues [or] if there’s academic issues, they can directly address those with that student and the parent rather than waiting until parent-teacher conferences.”
As for Raider Academy sports program, Gribble said that some of the details have yet to be hammered down.
CHS athletic director Richard Skipper will oversee sports for the academy, Gribble said.
“It is my understanding that students can play up. And we can have some standalone play at our school,” she said.
Basketball and football will be able to play at the ninth-grade academy.
“As far as practices, Mr. Skipper and myself will sit down with the coaches and will work out how the practices will be held.”
The driving distance from CHS to Coffee County Raider Academy is 3.1 miles, according to Google Maps. Drive time is five minutes.