The Barrow Arts and Sciences Academy, which will open in August, is supposed to be a different kind of high school. If principal Dale Simpson’s plans are followed, it should be.
The Barrow County School System has about 800 applications for the school, Simpson said, and letters of approval for the students were expected to go out this week.
The most applications came from projected ninth-graders, he said. The number of eighth-graders is second.
Simpson said he does not expect 800 students.
“Filling out an application is one thing, …” Simpson said, not finishing the sentence, but “attending the school is another.”
BASA will open with four “academies” — visual art and design, performing arts conservatory, life and health science and science, technology, engineering and mathematics — as students are encouraged to find their “passion.”
Each student will pick an academy to start. The students will be exposed to the specific area, such as life and health science, through their core classes.
Beginning students will be introduced to a “survey” course that will be wide-ranging and broad. More specialized courses would start in the 10th grade, Simpson said.
The school also will start with an eighth grade, Simpson said.
He said eighth-grade students will get the benefit of being in the school but will still be a bit sheltered. The eighth-graders will have separate classrooms and will eat lunch with other eighth-graders, he said.
The school will “bring eighth-graders into the high school but in a protected way,” he said.
Simpson said the school “will ask” students to attend the school for at least one year.
Simpson said taking all the students to the school each day — providing transportation — is a “big deal.” Other schools in the area have exclusivity, require students to pass an exam or make certain grades.
The BASA will have none of that, he said. Students fill out an application but that is not exclusive. They are not selected based on grades, where they live in the county or any specific criteria.
In most cases for selective schools, parents are required to make the transportation arrangements. Barrow County schools will do that and will pay the costs, he said. A task force has been established to make recommendations on how it can work. That group hopes to make its recommendations at the February work session and have them approved at the March board meeting.
The transportation plan will be publicized from March to July in every available format, Ken Greene, assistant superintendent for support services, and Simpson said.
Simpson also said the new students would “have a lot of communication” with the district during the summer. He said the school would hold “sort of camps” for new students to let them see the building and get information about the school.
He said the schedule calls for the district to have access to the buildings about the first of April. BASA is being built adjacent to the Sims Academy of Innovation and Technology, where Simpson also is principal. BASA in its first phase will have two buildings, classrooms, which is under roof, and the student center, which will be the commons areas — cafeteria, gym, media center.
Simpson also said he is talking with, and looking for, faculty members. He said he made presentations to all the schools’ faculty during the 2019-2020 school year.
“We’re looking for those people who can bring the ‘real’ world” into the school, he said.
Simpson said BASA will be “well above” the basic state standards for learning in its programs.
Finding the “right” faculty members is difficult, Simpson said. He also does not know yet how many teachers he will have on the staff.
Simpson said the specialized technology labs for each academy will be in the Sims Academy building, not Barrow Arts and Sciences Academy.
He added the Sims building has some classrooms that could be used for BASA courses if room is needed.
The school also will be different from a “normal” high school in the sports offered. BASA expects to offer competitive cheerleading, cross country, softball, one-act play and volleyball in the fall; dance, Esports, literary team and swimming in the winter; and baseball, golf, gymnastics, soccer, tennis and track in the spring. Neither football nor basketball will be offered at the school.
Simpson said all home games for the school will be played at Victor Lord Park, Barrow County's main recreation facility and the YMCA for swimming.
Simpson said he wants the school “to be known as one of the jewels across the state.” He said plans “continue to evolve.”
He said “intentional” several times about the school and student body. Simpson said the school should be unique and “we’ve got to be intentional” about the curriculum and its future.