Principal Jennifer Phinney nodded and assured a young student an extra couple pieces of pizza was OK as she maneuvered through a crowd during orientation at Morris Innovative High School on Wednesday.
The school provided pizza and drinks for families getting acclimated to the school’s new — and newly renovated — location at Fort Hill on Wednesday after spending three years in a building near Blue Ridge School. Classes resume today for students in Whitfield County and Dalton Public Schools.
Dalton Superintendent Jim Hawkins said Morris, which is expected to be up about 200 students to 500 this year, is the school system’s “incubator” for new ideas. Workers renovated the Fort Hill building over the summer for $2.83 million as officials agreed to expand the school to alleviate crowding at Dalton High School. Morris will also offer new programs and a smaller environment for students who choose to attend to catch up on credit or for other reasons.
“We’re trying to shake this ‘it’s just an academic alternative school,’” Hawkins said. “It’s a choice.”
It’s a choice that’s likely to attract students who might have shunned the old school with its less than modern-looking building and only partially accurate image as a place geared toward academically struggling students.
Senior Breeana Barrett said she recently moved from a county school district into the city and was advised to attend Morris. She said it was an easy choice since she wanted to enroll in health care classes there and plans to become a nurse after graduation.
“It looks good,” she said of the school.
Eastbrook Middle was built with $24 million that is being paid for through bonds the county school system took out and plans to repay with a 1 percent Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) voters approved in the July 31 primary election. The building replaces the 1965 structure that students, teachers and others who used it said wasn’t built to accommodate the technology needs of today’s students. Officials have also said it had numerous expensive-to-repair problems.
The building is divided into four sections designed to serve 200 students each. The school currently has about 600 students, so there is room for growth.
Whitfield County Schools Assistant Superintendent of Operations Richard Schoen said employees plan to use as much equipment and furniture as they can from the old school before it is demolished.
Northwest Georgia College and Career Academy CEO Tim Fleming said New Hope, North Whitfield, Valley Point and Westside middle schools will all be renovated to feature labs where students can enroll in career-oriented classes. Eastbrook was designed to include a place for the lab as the new school was completed this summer. Labs will also eventually be built at Northwest and Southeast high schools.
Fleming said engineering, business/marketing, agriscience, forensic science and health science programs or introductory overview courses of all those programs combined will be offered this year at each of the schools. The renovations are being funded by a $2.6 million state grant to supplement science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.
“This is really a big national push that’s going on with STEM education, but it also applies to us locally,” Fleming said.
Among the new equipment students will have access to is a 3D printer that creates objects based on criteria users enter into a computer program.