Our Future is Bright: ACS Progress Report, Spring 2019

Preparing Todays Students for Tomorrows World ACS is committed to meeting the challenges of today while preparing for the bright future of tomorrow. Dr. Chris Hamilton talks progress, growth, facilities, and more in this short Q &A session. 


Q: How many students do we have in the school system?


A: 4,306 average daily enrollment.


Q: How many students do you expect Athens to have in five to 10 years?


A: Given the rate of projected population growth for Athens, and assuming our student enrollment grows at the same rate, our enrollment could increase by 15 percent or more, bringing our total enrollment to almost 5,000. The last demographic study conducted by Athens City Schools was in 2008. A new demographic study is scheduled for this spring. This new study will provide more detailed information regarding projected residential locations and grade levels.


Q: What educational, sports or other extracurricular programs have we added or expanded in the past year?


A: Project-based learning has been a major emphasis this year, particularly in our K-3 elementary academies. Through a grant we received from the Dekko Foundation, all elementary teachers have received some initial professional development on this approach to teaching.


CES Student with Robot Project-based learning is designed to give students the opportunity to develop knowledge and skills through engaging projects that relate to the real world. Research supports the idea that the old-school model of passively learning facts and reciting them out of context is no longer sufficient to prepare students for our rapidly changing world.


Solving the kinds of highly complex problems required today and in the future requires that students have both fundamental skills (reading, writing, and math) and 21st century skills (teamwork, problem-solving, research gathering, time management, information synthesizing, utilizing high tech tools). Project-based learning allows students to become directors and managers of their learning process while working alongside trained educators.


Another program that has been integrated at a deeper level this year is AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination). This program is designed to help close the opportunity gap in college graduation rates among diverse and underrepresented demographic groups. It inspires students to take control of their learning by teaching skills in note-taking, studying and organizational skills.


The curriculum develops student-centric problem solving, strong academic language and helps teachers learn skills that reach all students regardless of their learning styles. We are proud to share that Athens Intermediate School, a regional leader in AVID methodologies, was recently selected to host an AVID Showcase for schools across the region to offer the opportunity to learn more about AVID Elementary.


Freshman Center The launching of the Freshman Center in our new high school and the creation of the Sixth Grade Center were both significant and important improvements for the school system and the students. Both sixth and ninth grades are important in times of transition, formation, and preparation. Each is a pivotal point in student education and development.


To prepare and equip our students for success, the Sixth Grade Center was created to focus on this important year of development for middle grades. The Sixth Grade Center is a dedicated “school within a school” that allows for a year of transition for students leaving elementary and preparing for upper middle school.


Although grades 6-8 are on the same campus, sixth graders are housed in a separate physical space and interaction with older students is very limited. Serving all sixth graders together provides our teachers and staff the opportunity to help students transition to middle school with greater confidence and success.


The creation of a Freshman Center in our new high school follows the same concept for our ninth-graders. Research shows ninth grade can be the most challenging year for students.


It is a pivotal point in their education as they begin to have more choices in the courses they take, they become involved in more extracurricular activities, and they begin having more homework. Additionally, they begin feeling the pressure of preparing for their future after high school.


Just as with our sixth-grade students, this time provides high school teachers the opportunity to help students be better prepared for the transition to high school.


Q: What educational, sports or other extracurricular programs do you think we need for the near future?


A: With regard to future educational programs, we want to develop a closer working relationship with our business community to identify their needs so that we can then create programs that will help ensure that our students can fill those jobs upon graduation. We would like to expand our co-op and internship programs to provide students with hands-on experiences within all areas of the workforce.


One of our highest priorities is to implement a program where our students can earn an associate’s degree at the same time they earn a high school diploma. This is being done in Cullman County Schools and other systems around us, so I see no reason we cannot designs similar program by partnering with a local community college.

Another area of future opportunity that is both educational and extracurricular is the strengthening and development of our performing arts programs. While we offer music and art in our elementary schools, these offerings become lessened as students progress in our system.


As we continue to fulfill our current strategic plan, we want to capitalize on our new facilities for our vocal and performing arts students. In its third year of revival, our choir program is continuing to grow in numbers and student recognition. As we move forward, we will be adding show choir and ensembles for male and female students. With our new facilities, these programs will be featured events.


Our theater and drama program is currently going through a restructuring process. We offered a middle school drama class for the first time this school year. Our plans are to build upon this foundation (replicating our choir program) and move these young performers through a systematic program of competitions and productions as they enter our high school.


Working in partnership with the Athens City Schools Foundation, we would also like to see the new 860 seat auditorium at Athens High School used to host public concerts and other performing arts events. A committee made up of various stakeholders is working to formalize this vision. In tandem with this effort, we would like to create a music industry program that prepares students for work in the music industry, both on stage as performers and backstage as producers.


Q: What building projects have we completed in the past year?


A: Our primary focus during the past year has been the completion of the new Athens High School campus. Moving the middle school students to the old high school required substantial renovations. Temporarily housing the high school students in the previous middle school building also required minor renovations. In addition, we replaced the HVAC unit at Brookhilll Elementary. While it is not exactly a building project, we were excited to roll out our new fleet of school buses this past year as well.


Q: What building projects do you think we need for the future?


A: iAcademy at Athens Elementary School renovations are scheduled to begin this summer. This renovation includes the demolition of the south building and upgrades throughout the remaining buildings. We will also be adding all new HVAC units throughout. During this renovation, students and staff will be temporarily housed at the Clinton Street (old Athens Middle School) campus. This relocation will require minor modifications to the restrooms and readjusting the car line with the accompanying canopies. The entire renovation process is projected to take at least the entire school year.