Bus Stop Honors: Morgan County High School chosen
By Kathryn Schiliro
Photos by Angelina Bellebuono
Each day of the school year, buses pull in and out of Morgan County High School.
Last Thursday, however, saw the arrival of one bus – not quite a yellow school bus – that brought with it about 70 visitors from across the state and as well as an honor. The school was one of six stops on the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education’s (GPEE) Annual Bus Trip Across Georgia.
The trip started 17 years ago “one, to celebrate achievement in [Georgia] public schools and, two, to share best practices,” according to GPEE Communications Director Bill Maddox, and allows around 70 “education stakeholders” – from educators to business people, legislators and community members – to experience the best of Georgia’s public schools.
Morgan County High School as well as Unity Elementary School, LaGrange; W.L. Parks Middle School, Atlanta; Amana Academy, Alpharetta; Centennial Arts Academy, Gainesville; and the Georgia College Early program at Georgia College and State University, Milledgeville were chosen out of more than 60 nominations as the schools to be featured on this year’s bus trip.
GPEE surveys each school’s student achievement numbers – like graduation rates, SAT scores, Adequate Yearly Progress – and culture before deciding which make the itinerary. According to Maddox, MCHS drew the attention of GPEE by its significantly increasing graduation rates and Principal Dr. Mark Wilson’s being named National Principal of the Year.
“This is something for which you don’t apply; you’re selected,” Wilson said, in e-mail correspondence. “From a pool of over 120 schools across the state, they selected six to visit, and we were the only high school on the visit…This visit was special because of the recognition that our students and teachers have earned, the well-deserved credit to our community for the unique support we have in Morgan County, but also in the opportunity to share with others across the state. The well-being of the citizens across our state is important, and we’re glad to have been able to take part in this expedition which is ultimately designed to improve the lives of all Georgians through education.”
The entirety of MCHS was involved in the visit, even some beyond the campus borders.
“The recognition that the school received as being a bus stop was something everyone should be able to take part in, so we did!,” Wilson said. “We had nearly 100 visitors to classes that morning, with each group going to five different classrooms. So, all of the students and teachers were involved throughout the visit. Also, we had our jazz band and Choraliers perform for the group on Wednesday night at dinner. They were blown away with how good our students performed and asked for encores! At the school, our ROTC and band performed, and our Culinary Arts classes fixed gourmet items for breakfast (beginning at 6 a.m.). Finally, our students were tour guides; we had 40 students who showed them around the school and told them about Morgan County High School.”
The guides were responsible for being able to lead the guests around campus as well as answering any questions the visitors might have about the school or its programs. They were also required to keep up the conversation.
“I went around and asked other students what they thought was innovative about the school,” student guide Katherine Key said, of how she prepared for Thursday’s event. “We are an innovative school.”
In addition to the three bus riders and two student guides, one community member joined each group as well.
“The community here is so supportive and proud of their schools, and they were represented by school board members, county commissioners, city council members, members of the MCHS School Council and other community members,” Wilson said.
The bus riders see two schools a day for three days, the major point being that they take notes and learn about what they see at the schools on the trip and take these ideas back to their communities.
“This tour gives riders a real diversity of programs,” Maddox said.
At each stop, visitors aren’t just observing, an aspect of the visit MCHS embraced.
“We don’t like to stand and watch; we like to interact,” Maddox said. “In this case, they opened up the whole school, almost every classroom to everyone.”
“One of the things I’m really impressed with is the music program,” Herbert Garrett, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, said, citing what he admired about MCHS. “I think they’re doing a lot of good things with technology.”
“I like the different schedule system,” Dalton State College senior and soon-to-be teacher Eric Howell said. “I think it allows teachers to get more in-depth with content.”
And all of the visitors surveyed mentioned the culture at MCHS, the “One Morgan” theme.
“They seem to have a real strong sense of school pride,” Bulloch County fourth grade teacher Lourie Owens said. “Their motto – ‘One Morgan’ – they seem to live it.”
“The visitors came to see our programs, the innovative ways that instruction is delivered and the creativity across the school,” Wilson said. “One of the biggest take-aways for the group was our culture and climate here, how students and teachers interacted with each other.”
“You can tell expectations are high,” Vickie Hammond, Oconee County teacher and state secretary for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators said. “It makes me feel more secure about my future because they’ll be the ones who will be running everything.”