Oglethorpe Charter School is Georgia’s oldest start-up charter school. The school opened its doors in 1999 in a vacant elementary building. During its first year, Oglethorpe enrolled nearly 200 6th and 7th-grade students. The school added an eighth grade the following year. Since that time, the enrollment at Oglethorpe, which is authorized by the Savannah-Chatham Board of Education, has tripled to 600 students. As part of its mission, the school works to provide students with a rigorous middle school education that helps them achieve personal success. The school’s curriculum emphasizes STEM and STEAM education, and students can take part in numerous leadership opportunities such as FLBA, student council and Beta Club.
“A large number of our alumni have gone on to attend some of the nation’s premier colleges and universities,” said Kevin Wall, Principal and Administrator at Oglethorpe Charter School. “Many of our former students tell their parents and teachers here that they were successful in high school and beyond because of the work ethic they were able to develop at Oglethorpe.”
Wall says one secret to the school’s success is Oglethorpe’s Saturday School program, which is held multiple times a year on Saturdays. The program is not mandatory, but Wall says he and staff members have worked to develop a culture where students want to attend and focus on completing their work. Oglethorpe also offers a marine science program, which allows students to study oceanography and marine biology. As part of the program, they help maintain more than 30 saltwater aquariums. Students also take field trips to Savannah’s maritime forests, the salt marsh, and local barrier islands. During the 2017-2018 school year, Oglethorpe began a partnership with the Flying Classroom, integrative supplemental STEM curriculum that helps students learn critical thinking, creativity and communication skills through lessons based on expeditions taken by Captain Barrington Irving. At age 23, Irving became the youngest person and first African American to fly around the world by himself. The Flying Classroom gives teachers and students the ability to investigate current global challenges aligned with national and state standards. Students can also take chorus, orchestra, band, art and theatre classes. Other classes include engineering, computer science, Spanish as well as fitness and wellness. The school also has a partnership with Savannah State University.
“We really work to provide students with a well-rounded middle school education,” said Wall. “We want to try and set the standard and bar high for everyone else. Anything and everything that we do, we try to do it at top capacity and at a very high level. That’s what our parents expect, and that’s what our students expect. ”
Wall has been in his position as Principal and Administrator for Oglethorpe for 15 years. One of the major changes that occurred during his tenure is the construction of the school’s current $21 million state-of-the-art facility. The new building opened seven years ago and was made possible by an Education Special Local Option Sales Tax (E-SPLOST) referendum. Oglethorpe was the first Georgia charter school to ever be included on a list of E-SPOLOST projects by a local board of education. Since that time, few charter schools in the state have been added to an E-SPLOST referendum. Wall credits the school’s working relationship with the Savannah-Chatham Board of Education.
“I’ve been blessed because a lot of the board members who served on Oglethorpe’s original governing board when it first opened have transitioned onto the Chatham County School Board. Many of them also had children who attended Oglethorpe. That’s how we got on the E-SPLOST referendum, because some of those folks pushed for that because they felt like their children got a really good education at Oglethorpe, and they wanted our students to have a nicer facility than the dilapidated one we were initially given.”
Wall said the new building and its location have been incredible for students, especially for Oglethorpe’s athletics and arts programs. Previously, the school had to rent a gym for P.E. classes, assemblies and graduations. They also had to bus students in sports like cross country, football, tennis and softball to practice and game locations. The school is now across the street from the softball complex where games are played and students are allowed to practice. Oglethorpe also has its own field where students can practice football and soccer and is near the location where games are played.
Wall also said the new building came equipped with a technology infrastructure that allowed the school to easily go to 1:1 technology, which allows all of its students have the opportunity to access the Internet as well as course materials and textbooks. According to Wall, the school’s previous facility would have made that change extremely challenging. Wall said the technology upgrade has made a positive difference in how the school can deliver its STEM and STEAM curriculum.
“It’s really opened up a lot of opportunities for students,” said Wall.
In the coming years, Wall said Oglethorpe Charter School hopes to continue providing innovative and unique programming so students can receive a well-rounded education that sets them up for success in college and any public or private high school in the nation.