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Charter school choices in Gwinnett are many

LAWRENCEVILLE -- It's been months since voters settled a dispute over the state's power to charter independent public schools.

On Nov. 6, 2012, about 58 percent of Georgia's voters said yes to an amendment to the state constitution, which sought to create an appointed commission at the Capitol who would have the power to authorize charter schools.

On Jan. 18, the state board of education appointed seven members to the commission. In coming weeks, the group plans to hold its first meeting. Soon after, it could begin reviewing applications for new charter schools around Georgia.

It will likely mean more local publicly funded, independent schools in Gwinnett County operating under the terms of their tailor made charters.

Meanwhile, existing charter schools around Gwinnett County have recently finished annual open house-style informational meetings, and those with too many applicants for their facility's capacity will hold lotteries over the next several weeks to decide who gets in during the 2013-14 year.

Here's a look at the current charter schools in Gwinnett County:

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Fourth-graders Jackson Berger, 10, Alicia Foward, 9, Hannah Blanton, 10, and David Gethers, 9, raise their hands in hopes of being called on by their teacher Andrea Miskewicz during social studies class at the New Life Academy of Excellence in Duluth Tuesday. This Gwinnett County Charter School prides itself with teaching their kindergarten through eighth grade students the Chinese language.

New Life Academy of Excellence

-- 3159 Campus Drive, No. 100, Norcross, 770-248-3032

-- 4725 River Green Parkway, Duluth, 678-720-9870

www.newlifeacademyga.com

According to its website, the school was conceived by a group of parents and community leaders who expressed an interest in assisting the Gwinnett County School Board by developing a "world-class chartered educational program."

Under the leadership of Founder Alphonsa Foward Jr., efforts began "with a goal to provide a safe, positive environment that encourages independent and creative thinking for students through an integrated curriculum."

After much planning and discussion, the Gwinnett County School Board recommended the approval of New Life Academy of Excellence through the state's board of education.

The institution was approved for its charter Aug. 10, 2006, through the state board. It became the first approved start-up charter school in the history of Gwinnett County.

Operating two campuses in Gwinnett County -- K-8 in Duluth and K-3 in Norcross -- New Life Academy of Excellence offers a curriculum focused on the Chinese language and culture.

Foward said the school is focused on a "rigorous academic curriculum" and on the study of the Mandarin Chinese language because "our overall goal is to prepare students for the global economy. We believe that the language is a business language, and in America most of our debt is owned by China. We believe in the future, students at New Life Academy of Excellence will be ambassadors."

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Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology

Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology

-- 970 McElvaney Lane, Lawrenceville, 678-518-6700

www.gsmst.org

According to its website, GSMST came about after Gwinnett County Public Schools conducted research of national models of math/science focused secondary schools.

The research, which included on-site visits, conferring with leadership of schools and reviewing curriculum, led to GSMST's approval by the GCPS board of education in March 2006.

The school was initially housed on the Duluth High School campus from 2007-2010. In the summer of 2010, GSMST moved to its permanent location at the geographic center of Gwinnett County, near Sugarloaf Parkway and Old Norcross Road -- the former site of Benefield Elementary School.

Technology plays an integral role in supporting curriculum and instruction at GSMST. All students enrolled there have personal laptops issued to them, which gives them "instant access to instructional material and documentation to supplement their classroom research."

Principal Jeff Mathews said the school is "extremely focused not only on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics), but on making sure we're providing the appropriate amount of support for the level of rigor we have at GSMST."

Added Mathews: "We are working to make sure we continue to provide the opportunities here at GSMST that will keep us moving forward in this ever-changing environment of STEM."

Mathews said that continued partnerships with businesses and universities "provide the relevant experiences for our internships so that our kids can continue to nurture their critical thinking and problem solving skills."

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Staff Photo: John Bohn . Teacher Sofia Mohammed, conducts a 6th-grade class in mathematics out of her regular classroom at Ivy Prep Academy, an all girls state-chartered school in Norcross. Students Carrie-Lynn Kelley, asking question at top left, Leslie Portugal and Malia Johnson are at top center.

Ivy Preparatory Academy at Gwinnett

-- 3705 Engineering Drive, Norcross, 770-342-0089

www.ivyprepacademy.org

An all-girls charter school, Ivy Prepatory Academy at Gwinnett was originally created to offer families a tuition-free, public middle school option to students in Gwinnett County. Ivy Prep received its charter from the state board of education in January 2008 and opened its doors to its first class of students in August 2008. IPA Gwinnett currently serves sixth grade through tenth grade students and plans to grow one grade level per year until the school reaches grade 12.

According to its website, Ivy Prep "is delighted to offer a college preparatory, single-gender educational option to our scholars."

Students at Ivy Prep receive an extended school year of 200 days of instruction. In addition, Ivy Prep offers Saturday Academy, Summer Academy and weekly homework support for all students who need additional assistance.

Principal and Founder Nina Gilbert said the school and staff "are so excited that we have reached our fifth year of excellent student achievement. Our scholars have continued to post high scores on state assessments, but we are most proud of the wonderful young ladies our scholars have become."

Added Gilbert: "We are also proud to be the only public middle school in Gwinnett County to be recognized as a "Rewards School" by the Georgia Department of Education for our continued academic success with the students we serve. Our college preparatory curriculum helps our students to develop into scholars with a desire to excel both personally and academically."

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Special Photo Students of Gwinnett Online Campus participate in a field trip at the Gwinnett Heritage and Environmental Center in Buford. Teacher Dan Lollis, center, said that hosting a digital classroom means it's easier to conduct class at unconventional locations: a big advantage for students.

Gwinnett County Online Campus

-- 2595 Beaver Ruin Road, Norcross, 770-326-8064

www.gwinnettonlinecampus.com

The oldest online program in Georgia, Gwinnett County Online Campus has served students since 1999. In March 2010, the Gwinnett County Board of Education voted to approve a charter school petition for Gwinnett Online Campus. In April 2011, the state board of education approved the GOC charter. The Gwinnett Online Campus Charter opened for high school students in 2011 and middle grades, six through eighth, in 2012.

According to its website, GOC is "committed to build upon its high level of success as a world class supplemental program to become the best fully online program in the country."

The school's mission is "to enhance the learning of students in a world-class virtual environment as we empower them with 21st century knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in the local, national and global community."

Dale Wade, schoolwide coordinator for GOC, said the school provides a "fit for different types of students, some of whom are training with extracurricular activities that require a lot of time or may have careers outside of school that require travel. It also includes students with health issues, who may have low immune systems or other health-related problems."

Added Wade: "We're a fit for where traditional schools may not meet a student's scheduling needs for various reasons."

The school is holding an informational meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 26, at Gwinnett Online Campus, Building F, for new students interested in enrolling in the 2013-14 school year. Intent to register forms are being accepted through Feb. 28.

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Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan . High school students Natalie Ozuna of Collins Hill and Keziah Fleurmont of Archer take the blood pressure of Kelsey Denzler of Berkmar during their Health Care Science Technology Education - Nursing Essentials course at Maxwell High School on May 10, 2012. One hundred percent of the students in the program will be attending college in the Fall.

Maxwell High School of Technology

-- 990 McElvaney Lane, Lawrenceville, 770-963-6838

www.maxwellhigh.com

According to its website, the mission of Maxwell High School of Technology is founded in educational research on increasing achievement, improving graduation rates and sustaining student success in post-secondary experiences.

Maxwell aims to award credit based on demonstrated mastery rather than instructional hours, providing a seamless transition for students to college and/or career.

In the words of Principal Jeff Hall: "We are the career and technical school for the district. We serve all the traditional home schools. We offer a wide array of curricula ... ranging from auto collision repair to law and justice, cosmetology and culinary arts."

Added Hall: "We feel like we have something for every student. We feel like we fit that motto pretty well."

Career and technical education got its start in Gwinnett County at Central Gwinnett High School in 1966. In 1973, Gwinnett's Career and Technical Education program moved to its present location. It was originally called the Career Center.

On June 20, 1995, the name of the school was changed to Maxwell High School of Technology, in recognition of the school's first principal, Howard Maxwell.

Maxwell will host an open house from 5 to 7:30 p.m Feb. 21 for all interested students.