Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan North Gwinnett Middle School Principal Wanda Law interacts with eighth grade student Lizzy Packer during her social studies class in Sugar Hill on Tuesday. Law has been the principal at North Gwinnett Middle School for the 3 years of its existence.
SUGAR HILL -- Wanda Law, principal of North Gwinnett Middle School, is sincere when she says she loves middle-schoolers.
"To many adults, that may sound strange. Sure, they can have attitude, but they are looking to us for guidance. There's such a big difference between sixth-graders and eighth-graders, and I call seventh grade the rollercoaster year," laughed the seasoned educator. "They can be talking to you one minute and be just fine, then the next thing you know, they're crying."
Law knows what she's talking about. She has both taught in and led middle schools since the beginning of her teaching career, even doing her student teaching at Lilburn Middle school. Once hired at that same school, Law continued to teach there for 10 years. When state-of-the-art Creekland Middle School opened in 1996, Law moved to the then-largest middle school in Georgia and one of the largest in the U.S. After teaching at Creekland for four years, she moved to Lanier Middle School as an assistant principal and after three years there, moved to Jones Middle School as an AP.
"I've never seen so many boxes in my life," remembered Law of the opening of Jones Middle School.
At Jones, she was first a grade-level AP, then moved into the role of a curriculum and testing AP. Following a three-year stint as principal of Sycamore Elementary School, Law took the reins as the first principal of North Gwinnett Middle school, which opened in 2009.
Law leads the practically new middle school with several goals at the forefront: high academic achievement, student choices, leadership, service and community, and pride in self and school.
"We've been very successful in a short period of time," Law said. "Our CRCT scores are in the top 10 in the state. We're No. 2 in the state with respect to eighth-grade writing, for two years in a row. Our ITBS scores (a national testing measure) are strong. I'm very proud of our academic achievement."
High-level math and science courses, as well as Latin and Spanish, are offered to NGMS students, preparing them for advanced placement classes at North Gwinnett High School. The high school, understandably, supports this policy.
Academics alone, however, do not make for a well-rounded student. Law and her team of top-notch teachers also emphasize service to the community and fine arts in an effort to turn out students well equipped for both high school and college.
"I intentionally made sure that some service clubs meet during the school day, so that all students have the opportunity to participate," Law said.
The NGMS band and orchestra are top notch, having won superior ratings at the state level every year since the school opened. This year, a guitar program is being offered to students for the first time.
"The arts, community service and academics go hand-in-hand," the principal said.
Planning for college and careers is emphasized and encouraged at NGMS throughout the school building, and specifically in the College and Career center on campus.
Parents and the Suwanee community have stepped alongside the new school to support teachers in their efforts. Parent volunteers in the school are welcomed, and throughout the school year there are several Parent Visitation days during which parents can attend classes all day with their children.
"Parents can have a negative view of middle school for a lot of reasons, and we want them to know that they are welcome anytime at our school," Law said. "Seeing what your child does throughout the day, firsthand, is so much more valuable than just hearing about it."
The principal's passion for her students has had years to grow and develop, having listened to her grandmother's stories about teaching school in a one-room schoolhouse in Rabun County.
"I used to play 'school' and teach my stuffed animals and cats when I was a little girl," laughed Law, remembering her first memories of wanting to be an educator.
Earning her undergraduate degree and master's degree at Brenau University, then undergoing leadership training at the University of Georgia, Law is truly a home-grown teaching professional.
"I'm proud of our school and I think that if you asked any of our students, they would say they're proud of it, too."