International Academy of Smyrna is a labor of love
by Lindsay Field
April 07, 2013 12:05 AM | 3729 views | 8 8 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kindergarteners Parker Combs, 5, left, and Steffanii German, 6, match words to the number of syllables they contain during class at the International Academy of Smyrna.<br>Staff/Laura Moon
Kindergarteners Parker Combs, 5, left, and Steffanii German, 6, match words to the number of syllables they contain during class at the International Academy of Smyrna.
Staff/Laura Moon
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First-grade teacher Ashley Haney checks a math assignment from Tiffanie Warnock, 7, during class at the International Academy of Smyrna.<br>Staff/Laura Moon
First-grade teacher Ashley Haney checks a math assignment from Tiffanie Warnock, 7, during class at the International Academy of Smyrna.
Staff/Laura Moon
slideshow
Seventh-grader Jordan Wilson, 13, adds finishing touches to a world map for her group's Utopia Society project.<br>Staff/Laura Moon
Seventh-grader Jordan Wilson, 13, adds finishing touches to a world map for her group's Utopia Society project.
Staff/Laura Moon
slideshow
Cheryl Wilson said opening the International Academy of Smyrna has been a labor of love.

Wilson, who works with a group that provides oversight, helped start the school six years ago and is the mother of three students — a third-, sixth- and eighth-grader — at the school.

The International Academy of Smyrna originally opened in 2007 as Imagine International Academy, but last school year, the seven-member board of directors, along with parent and teacher support, cut ties with the education management company and now runs itself.

Wilson and co-principal Dr. Gwendolyn Miller credit each of those groups for the school’s continued growth.

“I’m truly impressed with the parents. … I just think it’s a sense of commitment from the community to support the school,” Miller said. “It’s been very rewarding to be a part of this school and to see the growth and to see the students and the parents.”

Miller had worked in the Atlanta and Fulton County school systems, and joined the academy’s staff two years ago when the board started the transition from operating under Imagine.

“I’ve really fallen in love with the school, and I like the fact that there is a sense of family and passion for what takes place here,” Miller said. “I think that’s why the school has been so successful.”

The two-story school off South Cobb Drive, where Rich’s department store once stood, serves 960 students in kindergarten through eighth-grade.

Wilson said the newly revamped building, which underwent renovations over the summer using a $17 million bond, can accommodate up to 1,200 students. So there is room for growth.

The school pulls students from Smyrna, Austell, Powder Springs and Mableton.

“The kids never want to leave,” Wilson said. “They are happy to be here, and when they go on break, they are ready to come back, which is unusual for kids, but they love the environment, and they love being here because it is a very caring environment. It’s like family.”

Teachers and parents

Miller said they have many young teachers — about 75 in all — and most of them have fewer than than five years of experience but are focused on the mission of the school.

“I think it’s a really good balance for us,” Miller said. “They’ve brought a lot to the table with them, and it’s not as hard for them to transition into a new way of teaching and a new style of teaching. They are young and energetic.”

The new style of teaching Miller refers to is the International Baccalaureate program, for which the school is in the midst of earning an authorization in primary and middle grades.

“That’s the core of our charter,” Wilson said. “It’s what differentiates us from other schools.”

The school should have its formal authorization within the next two or three months, but they have been using the program while serving as a candidate school since its opening.

Wilson said IB is a different way of teaching, “a more global world view.”

“It’s not specific lessons that are taught but the way you deliver that lesson,” she said. “For each IB program, they have different things that they focus on that you infuse in the subject areas.”

The IB program is what brought third-grade teacher Seri Kenemanisoth to the school three years ago.

“I like the diversity and the demographics here,” she said. “It’s a lot different than other schools in Cobb County.”

Kenemanisoth is from Gwinnett County and commutes daily. “I love the kids and definitely love the parents,” she said.

Speaking of parents, Wilson and Miller both applauded the amount of parental support they have at the academy.

Miller said they have parents in the building every day, volunteering in some way.

The charter requires single parents to volunteer at least 15 hours a year, and a couple at least 30 hours, but parents go above and beyond.

“We also have a very active (Parent Teacher Association),” Wilson said. “They provide the school with a lot of support and financial fundraisers, which come back to the school.”

Last year they helped pay for Smart Boards in many of the classrooms.

The parent involvement also has trickled down to how students perform.

“The bigger impact is with the students because when they see that their parents are involved, it also helps them to better in school,” Wilson said.

“It really sends a message to them that education is important,” Miller added.

Parents also help out with school supplies.

“If you are to ask any teacher, they will tell you how much they love their parent volunteers because they get copy paper, or whatever the need is,” Wilson said. “All they have to do is send out the email and they will get the response.”

One of those dedicated parents and long-time parent volunteer is Judy Aikpitanyi, whose daughter is a fourth-grader at the school and been enrolled since kindergarten.

She chose the academy after learning more about the IB program. “It was something that we needed for our daughter, so we came, we saw and we conquered,” she said.

Aikpitanyi, whose family lives in Smyrna, volunteers daily at the school, helping out in the front office. “For me as a parent, I love that the staff makes you comfortable,” she said. “They also take care of our kids like they are their own kids.”

Where did it all start?

One year prior to opening, Wilson said she learned about a group of Mableton parents who were interested in starting a charter school in their community.

“We wanted to offer parents in the community another choice, not that there was anything wrong with the other schools, but if parents wanted to choose something different, they had the opportunity,” she said.

Parents realized that charter schools are not a “one size fits all” concept and understood their school isn’t perfect for everyone but still wanted to have a choice.

“We’re very happy to be able to offer that to the community,” she said.

The school opened with nearly 500 students under Imagine Schools earning a five-year charter and was received approval for a second five-year charter from the Cobb County School Board last spring.

Since going off on their own, the school has continued to make strides but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still challenges. Wilson said the biggest one of all continues to be funding, especially in the maintenance and operations areas.

To resolve those issues, she said the board is looking to spend more time applying for grants and fundraising.

“We are doing more major fundraising to try and bridge the gap,” she said.

“So that we’re able to do things like have a smaller class size. Right now, that’s one thing that is very difficult because of the financial constraints.”
Comments
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Smyrna Dad
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April 19, 2013
If you are looking for a K through 8 school in the Smyrna area, come and take a look at IAS. See the building, visit the classrooms, meet the teachers and the administration. Go to Greatschools.org and read about the test scores, demographics, etc. Get familiar with the carpool process.

Whatever you do, make your own judgement. School choice is a personal decision. The only opinion that matters is yours. If you send your child to IAS, and your child is happy and doing well in school, then you made the right decision.
All In Dad
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April 15, 2013
Papermill Gal wrote: The IB program, everybody knows, is the liberal/Marxist global world view that educators and anti-American radicals such as William Ayers espouse for our children. "Social justice education" predominates....why doesn't the author of this piece tell us what the kids are studying? Is it the founding fathers, or the skewed version of America that Ayers wants our kids to believe?

I am an International Academy of Smyrna parent and I am very involved there. Actually, we are determined to equip our students to be independent, 21st Century critical thinkers, which "Papermill Gal" definitely is not.

In fact, her rants would be right at home in the paranoid, tragic and twisted McCarthy era of the 1950's. We combine the new (and much improved) new Georgia Core curriculum with the IB.

There is NOTHING Marxist at all about the IB; we will leave that sort of thing to red states Texas (with its revisionist textbooks many other states will no longer purchase), and Mississippi, which has also airbrushed its extreme opposition to civil rights and desegregation of its school books.

Conversely, IAS has NEVER claimed to be IB Certified, but is currently in the process of becoming so. When we ARE a diverse, nationally ranked, IB certified, Blue Ribbon School of Excellence in the years to come (these are SOME of our goals), then maybe "Papermill Gal" and her fellow haters will enter their children in our lottery. Then again, DON'T bother!

anonymous
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April 17, 2013
@All In Dad. I will lay it all out on the table without mincing words. I am caucasian. I have seen two little girls in my neighborhood that are black with entirely different attitudes toward me since attending this school this year only. Race wasn't a factor before that. Oh, there is something very, very, very racist about these schools. Trust me. You teach racism. Papermill Gal never indicated to me she is a hater--you indicated to me very well that you are with your venom. P.S. I have nieces and nephews that are of mixed race. The parents check which box benefits them most. When race is not a factor, maybe this back and forth hatred FROM BOTH SIDES will stop. Joke is that these two little girls in my neighborhood will get laughed out of town when they are adults because they were taught reverse racism. And I question what that term even means.
anonymous
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April 17, 2013
IB is not diverse and will never be diverse because of the racist teaching. Not a hater at all. My grandchild is being brought up in inner city Atlanta. Diversity is not being forced on her. She lives it. White, black, hispanic, japenese, chinese, whatever, are equal to her little mind, as it should be.
Papermill gal
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April 07, 2013
Ms. Kenemanisoth said: "I like the diversity and the demographics here. It’s a lot different than other schools in Cobb County.”

Kenemanisoth is from Gwinnett County and commutes daily. “I love the kids and definitely love the parents,” she said.

Here is my question: how does this teacher know what the demographics are in other schools in the county? I'm assuming she means they are all white and she doesn't want to be there. Is she racist? What do her comments mean here? Let's be real. If a bunch of east Cobb parents started a similar school in east Cobb (where demographics are all over the map but apparently this teacher doesn't realize it)and a teacher said that, all hell would break lose.

The IB program, everybody knows, is the liberal/Marxist global world view that educators and anti-American radicals such as William Ayers espouse for our children. "Social justice education" predominates....why doesn't the author of this piece tell us what the kids are studying? Is it the founding fathers, or the skewed version of America that Ayers wants our kids to believe? And when they are celebrating multi-culti themes, are they learning that America is inherently unfair and not exceptional in this world? I'm not attacking the IB program, there is merit in it. I am just not happy that some schools are pushing a political view of the world and my tax money is going towards it, when others in the county are educating all students in real reading, writing and math without the politics attached.

When you mesh religion and politics, you get a Sharia-type result that is inherently at odds with the American constitution and point of view. I'm fine with charter schools, but let's get race and politics OUT of the equation. And how about hiring some teachers who believe in the American dream, where people are judged not by the color of their skin but the quality of their character.

Marietta Miss
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April 07, 2013
This school is the pinnacle of the American dream. A community of people wanted a school... and they built one - a successful institution of learning to be very proud of and believe in. You can't get more American than that. What a lesson for our children, yours and mine. Stop with your racist tinged rhetoric and flaming Anti-Obama nonsense and see the beauty that is the education of these children who, by God's grace and mercy, will be better than you or I - making this whole exchange prayerfully moot someday soon.
What a joke...
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April 07, 2013
They claim to be an IB school but they are not IB certified.

Look at the test scores and how they compare to the rest of the Cobb schools - they are not performing any better for such a small environment. We all want to protect our little kids from the real world and they fall when reality hits hard.
Cobb Parent
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April 15, 2013
So apparently you have to be Marxist to understand that our children require a world view to be productive members of society? What closed East Cobb world do you live in?

The IB program is an excellent way in which to prepare our children for the real world. No politics necessary.

I agree with Marietta Miss.

What a joke, if you understood anything about the IB process you would know that you can't begin the IB certification process until you have been in existence for 5 years.

The school is right on track!
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