The list of achievements garnered by Fulton Science Academy Middle School is seemingly endless.
The Alpharetta school’s prowess was most recently validated by the U.S. Department of Education’s 2011 National Blue Ribbon School award, bestowed upon about 300 schools nationwide each year. FSA Middle was one of just nine schools in Georgia to receive the honor this year.
In addition to that, 98 percent of FSA Middle students met or exceeded the standard on the 2011 Georgia Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), and on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, FSA Middle students earned the highest scores among all Fulton County middle schools in all subject areas. Add to that the great success of the school’s extracurricular clubs and teams (math, science, social studies, technology, Model United Nations, etc.), which routinely win or place in the top three of their various competitions.
Additionally, FSA Middle’s International Heritage Festival Night — which celebrates the school’s great diversity as the food, music and culture of nearly 50 countries is represented — has grown to 10,000 participants. The event was moved to the nearby Verizon Center last year.
With so much success it’s hard to see how the school could improve. But by focusing on the development of the whole student, the faculty, staff and administrators at the school have found ways to do just that.
“We’re trying to develop well-rounded students who will be good citizens,” said Katherine Dion, a former administrator at FSA Middle who is now public relations coordinator for the Fulton Science Academy Schools, which includes Fulton Sunshine Academy Elementary School and Fulton Science Academy High School. “We want our students to participate in clubs and be team players. College readiness is a big goal of ours too. We want to develop the whole child here.”
The teachers and administrators at FSA Middle have developed an initiative to help teach the 515 students there how to become good note takers in class, which will help them develop better study habits in high school and beyond. Student notebooks and agendas are graded and evaluated on organization and neatness in all classes that require notes.
“Time management and organization are going to be so important in high school and college that we wanted to start focusing on it now,” said Angela Lassetter, an FSA Middle parent and board member. “This school is not just about test scores. Our teachers focus on preparing our students and making sure they retain and learn the information. There is no teaching to the test here.”
To ensure that students have a complete understanding of the material they have covered, most classes require students to complete presentations so that they can show how well they have retained the information on a measurement other than a test. The presentation are made in front of the class.
“We want to develop those presentation and public speaking skills because students will need them in college and in the business world,” Lassetter said. “I think this sets us ahead of most other middle schools. Our students are doing things that even most ninth graders are not doing.”
Due to the school’s success, officials are well aware of the reputation the school has for attracting top-notch students. But FSA Middle holds a blind lottery every year to bring in a fresh group of about 160 sixth grade students. Nearly 600 students participate in the lottery, which keeps the school’s waiting list in the range of 400 to 500 students.
Once students come to the school, all of them are held to the same standard, including the nearly 30 special needs students at the school. Students are grouped in one of three categories — on-level, advanced or gifted (in the Fulton County School District’s Talented and Gifted, TAG, program). But all students are held to the same standard.
“We challenge all of our students,” Lassetter said. “Those who need an extra challenge receive it and those who need extra help receive it. Also, students know they can move into the advanced or TAG group, or they can move back to an on-level class if they are having trouble. We don’t want any of our students to feel as if they are stuck in one spot. Our curriculum is truly tailored the needs of our students.”
FSA Middle Principal Kenan Sener and others are quick to point out that the school could not offer the programs and initiatives it does without the dedication of the faculty and staff.
“Someone has to coordinate and lead all of the various teams, clubs and programs we offer, and it takes a lot of extra time,” Dion said. “You will never see this parking lot empty at 5 o’clock. The dedication of our teachers is unmatched and it allows us to do everything that we do here.”
That includes that after school and Saturday school sessions for students who have been idetified as needing extra help on the CRCT.
“Within the first two weeks of school through our assessments, we have already identified students who may need to be in our early intervention program,” Dion said. “We have a full service special needs program for students who need it. It’s our goal to meet the needs of every one of our students.”
Future plans for the school are to expand the current list of programs and clubs, and to move into a new 44-acre campus that will eventually house all three Fulton Science Academy schools. The ground breaking for the new facility will be sometime in November.
“The new facility will be great, but our plans are to keep the same number of students,” Lassetter said. “We want to keep the small school feel that we have, the sense of family that we have. We don’t want to grow larger. We want to grow better.”