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Evolving excellence
Benefield Elementary's new state-of-the-art facility retains traditions

LAWRENCEVILLE - Benefield Elementary may have a new home, but when students return to school Monday, they'll enter familiar territory.

The school's traditions, along with its focus on student achievement and commitment to meeting the needs of the community, moved down Old Norcross Road along with boxes of teachers' possessions, principal Ron Boyd said.

The start of a school year is always exciting, but moving into a state-of-the-art facility is the cherry on top, he said.

"We had great teachers and great programs in place to help everyone," Boyd said. "Now we have the facility in place to match all of that. ... It's a recipe for a fabulous year."

Benefield Elementary's new building is one of five recently constructed facilities opening for the 2008-09 year. Lanier Middle School has moved to a new site, and Puckett's Mill, Rosebud and Trip elementary schools were built as part of Gwinnett County Public Schools' plan to relieve overcrowding in existing buildings.

Additional classrooms were also added to Knight Elementary and Alton C. Crews Middle School, district officials said.

More brick-and-mortar classrooms won't be the only new arrivals in the school district. Several elementary schools will receive projectors and other equipment as the system completes its goal of upgrading technology. Revamped curriculum will be taught, reflecting the state's stricter standards. Students will also encounter new entrees in the cafeteria, such as spicy chicken chunks and baked black bean empanadas.

All that is new this year springs from a foundation established by the district's quest to have a world-class system, officials said.

"In the new school year, we expect to build on the strong tradition of excellence that has long been a part of Gwinnett County Public Schools' history. This is an exciting time as we open new schools and welcome new students and teachers," said Sloan Roach, the district's spokeswoman. "But that excitement doesn't end with the first day of class - it's only the beginning as we launch into a new year of teaching and learning."

J.W. Benefield, the district's former superintendent, said the basic processes of school haven't changed much throughout the years.

"I'm not seeing anything that's completely new," he said. "It's an evolving process, and I like to see it."

Benefield, the namesake of the elementary school, said he's glad the school can now stand on its own as an educational institution. At its former location on McElvaney Lane, the school was juxtaposed with the Oakland School and Maxwell High School of Technology.

This year, Maxwell High is the only facility remaining on the site, but the school is constructing a permanent building there for the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology. Oakland School moved last year to Margaret Winn Holt Elementary's campus, changing names to Oakland Meadow School.

Benefield, who recently toured the new elementary school, said he's glad he's been retired long enough to see the fruits of his labor. He served as superintendent from 1967 to 1977.

Boyd, the principal, said he wants his school to reflect the excellence Benefield brought to the school district. He said the former superintendent was a visionary who helped the district become what it is today.

In the future, Boyd said he expects the school and the district to continue its evolution.

"We're here today," he said, "but everything changes in the future."

SideBar: What's New This Year?

Five new facilities, including replacement buildings for two established schools, will welcome Gwinnett County students on Monday:

Puckett's Mill Elementary, 2442 S. Pucketts Mill Road, Dacula

Rosebud Elementary, 4151 Rosebud Road, Loganville

Trip Elementary, 841 Cooper Road, Grayson

Benefield Elementary, 1221 Old Norcross Road, Lawrenceville

Lanier Middle, 6482 Suwanee Dam Road, Buford (The sixth-graders are housed in the building that will open next year as White Oak Elementary.)

Gwinnett County Public Schools is rolling out the following new curriculum and programs:

Social studies curriculum for elementary schools

Ninth-grade mathematics

Georgia Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (GKIDS), a performance-based assessment program that will provide teachers with information about the level of instructional support needed by their individual students

Cafeterias will be serving new entrees, including the following:

Spicy chicken chunks

Roasted asparagus

Steamed red cabbage

Personal pan pizza and roasted chicken pizza

(middle schools)

Low-fat apple

danish (breakfast)

Hummus and pita chips

Baked black bean empanadas

Vegan burgers

Source: Gwinnett County Public Schools