June 12, 2013

Kopcsak to lead Morris Innovative

By Christopher Smith

— George Kopcsak says when he sees impoverished students, he feels a mission from God to help those kids better themselves despite their tough start in life.

Kopcsak, the new principal of Morris Innovative High School, said he is drawn to the “challenge” of Morris because it attracts many impoverished teenagers who need to go to school late or learn online so they can work during the day.

The outgoing principal of Eastbrook Middle School in Whitfield County will switch positions and school systems on July 1 when he replaces Jennifer Phinney, who was promoted to director of school support in May. Kopcsak’s replacement at Eastbrook has not been picked, county schools spokesman Eric Beavers said.

When Kopcsak arrives at Morris he hopes to show the students they have a “future story” where they don’t have to rely on a minimum wage.

“A future story is — well — I think a lot of the kids are growing up and not taught to think about their futures,” Kopcsak said. “It’s the idea that kids live mostly in the now. Part of the job is to show kids that there are other options out there. That they can have a better future.”

To achieve that you have to be “missional,” Kopcsak said.

“I think it’s a calling to be an educator,” he said. “This is like going on a church mission for me. I love kids and I want to help kids in poverty. I know we are in a secular society, but I feel like I have a mission to invest in this community and the kids here.”

Kopcsak first felt his call in 1987 when he started as a teacher at Manassas City Schools in Virginia. He said he quickly rose through the ranks until he moved to Dalton and eventually became principal of Eastbrook Middle.

“And I was perfectly happy there,” he said. “I just saw the challenge at Morris. I found out about the school and learned more about it and it excited me. It’s a great challenge.”

The biggest challenge for Kopcsak is juggling the school’s commitment to individualistic and innovative teaching while improving College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI) scores, he said.

The CCRPI evaluates schools on a 100-point scale as part of an accountability system state educators used for the first time in 2012, replacing the Adequate Yearly Progress system under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Under the new system, schools are scored on testing, graduation rates, student feedback and how well they are helping students from low-income homes, among other factors. The 2012 results became public on May 7 and indicated Morris was struggling more than most high schools in the state.

The average score for high schools across the state was 72.6, while Morris received a score of 34.6. Dalton High School, the city’s traditional school, garnered a score of 82.4.

Phinney said the school’s constantly changing vision and dedication to individual teaching wasn’t reflected in the score. Kopcsak said he has a “similar philosophy.”

“I would love to see the CCRPI go up, but that might take some time,” he said. “To see the success of the school, you really have to talk to the students and parents. You get a different picture from them and what they have to say than what you see on paper.

“Dalton High School or Northwest (Whitfield) High School have a wide array of kids that go there. Morris is a school of choice trying to find its identity and find what works with kids who need a different approach to education. We’re rethinking education. If a student who would drop out at Dalton High because they don’t fit in there and comes to Morris and graduates, that’s a win.”

What changes can students and parents expect when Kopcsak takes over?

Investment into online learning without abandoning traditional classrooms, Kopcsak said.

“It’s a bit ambiguous right now,” he added. “When I come in, I will meet the staff and find out what’s been done. I don’t want to throw anything out. I need to get in there and find out what’s working for them and what’s not. I need to get to know the staff.

“We are looking at all options. There’s talk of (exclusive) online learning, but I think a physical environment is important to keep because there are adults to care for kids. A lot of students need an adult presence to mentor them. I don’t know how many students would attend if it was just all virtual.”