Principal Patrick Rossiter signed for deliveries, fielded phone calls and helped teachers fill salt water tanks with creatures from Tybee Beach. The 34-year educator was as excited as a first-year student.
"These lap tops are cool," Rossiter said as he navigated the chairs and crates of supplies in the gleaming halls of the newly renovated school. "And look at this — these are the signal flags they use on those big container ships. Each one represents a different letter. That's a unique way for a kindergartener to learn the alphabet."
When the new maritime-themed charter school opens Monday it will be the first time that Tybee has had a public school in 22 years. The old Tybee Public School closed in 1988 as part of a desegregation plan and dwindling enrollment forced St. Michael's parochial school to close its doors in 2010.
But the absence of a school made the grey hair on the heads of Tybee's large retirement community really stand out. So the community pooled their resources and talent to organize an innovative maritime-themed charter school designed to attract more young families to the island. State law allows community groups to use public school funding to independently operate tuition-free schools that are open to all residents. Tybee's charter school was organized by concerned citizens who wanted to see more children on the island. Everyone on Tybee seemed to buy in.
"Our community effort is coming together," said Perb Fortner, a retired Jackson Hewitt Tax Service executive who volunteers as the school's chief financial officer.
St. Michael's Church officials made major renovations to the old St. Michael's School facilities so the charter school could be housed there. Residents donated their time and money to the effort, many sold off goods and services to generate funds. Plans for integrating the Common Core Curriculum into a hands-on, project-based academic program for grades K-5 were developed by local educators, including Tybee Mayor Jason Buelterman, retired Atlanta educators Carolyn Jurick and Cindy Cupp, as well as professors from Savannah State University. Buelterman heads up the successful International Baccalaureate program at Johnson High, Jurick was principal of Georgia's first charter school and Cupp served as state curriculum director and authored a reading instruction program called Cupp Readers and Journal Writers.
The school will offer maritime-themed lessons that focus on soft skills, reasoning, problem solving and independence. Students will track the origins of products they use in school and research where the raw materials came from, how the final products were manufactured, shipped and distributed for retail sale. Patrick Rossiter, a popular educator who previously served as principal of Garden City Elementary School, will lead the school. There will be a 17 to 1 student-to-teacher ratio; every child will have his own laptop and access to an iPad lab.
Officials expect to enroll about 166 students in grades kindergarten through four next year and 200 in grades kindergarten through five the year after that. Seats are still available and the community is working on the finishing touches before the students return to the Island on Aug. 12. After three years without a school, blinking school zone warning lights have to be re-installed on the roads and staff has to refresh the playground mulch.
"If I'm this excited I can't wait to see the kids," Rossiter said. "They'll see education presented in a way they've never seen before."
Information from: Savannah Morning News, http://www.savannahnow.com
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.