By Carolyn Jurick
Seventeen years ago I was principal of the first charter school in Georgia. One retirement, one big move and many years later, I find myself once again helping to launch a charter school. I was the principal at Addison Elementary in Cobb County for sixteen years. Now some of my time and energy is focused on helping to start the Tybee Island Maritime Academy, which will become the state’s first and only elementary school focused on maritime education when it opens next fall. What a journey!
Years ago at Addison Elementary we were looking at ways to increase student achievement. We started to examine the charter school concept. It took us two years to write the charter petition and we were learning as we were going. All stakeholders became actively involved in becoming a charter school. We were one of the state’s earliest beta experiments with charters. This was back in the early 1990s.
Once we were granted the charter, we couldn’t believe the freedom we had to do what was in the best interest of students and their learning. Parents became more and more involved, students were actively engaged and teachers viewed themselves as learners. We became a real learning community!
We examined everything top-to-bottom to see what structures were in place and what structures got in the way of providing the best possible education for our students. The freedom we experienced through changing from a traditional public school to a charter school came with a huge responsibility and all stakeholders rose to the occasion. It was a dream!
Being a charter school in some ways was really more work, but it was meaningful work. Today as I look back on those years I can honestly say that our parents, our teachers and our administration were always capable and able to focus first and foremost on our students! It was quite a run but after nearly a decade I retired in 2004 and three years later I moved to Georgia’s beautiful Tybee Island.
Tybee is a small island off the coast of Savannah. It is a community of a bit more than three thousand people. We lost the island’s only school, St. Michael’s Catholic School, when it closed in 2010. Our mayor, the city council, a group of citizens and parents began to discuss how to open a charter school to close the huge void felt within the community. A school breathes life into and sustains a community!
In July 2010 the mayor and I met with a representative of the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System to discuss starting a charter school on Tybee Island. Our new journey was underway.
Tybee Island Maritime Academy (TIMA) is a response to a broad community grassroots effort based on a desire for Tybee children to have an opportunity to be educated on the island where they live. With its unique curriculum and instruction, TIMA will enroll and benefit students from throughout Chatham County,
This was by no means quick or easy. For two years we have built community support for TIMA through surveys of parents and community members, weekly emails with updates and requests for input, a series of public educational meetings, input into the draft of the petition, monthly meetings and monthly articles describing different aspects of the charter in the Tybee Breeze and other publications. The support for a charter school has been overwhelming. This was hard work done not by one or a few but by many.
When it opens next fall in the former St. Michael’s Catholic School location the new Tybee Island Maritime Academy will guide students in the development of character and academic potential through a rigorous, content-rich, hands-on project-based curriculum. We asked our community what we need to thrive as a community and we are responding. We will do all of this while making sure we consistently integrate the new Common Core Georgia Performance Standards.
TIMA will have easy access to the outdoor classrooms of the ocean, marshes and historic sites such as the Lighthouse and Fort Pulaski. We look forward to the involvement of the Propeller Club, the Navy League, the Coast Guard and the Georgia Ports Authority as we build Georgia’s first charter school that concentrates on maritime education and career preparation.
By hosting the charter school on Tybee Island, it will enable students from all walks of life to experience, first hand, the wonder of the sea and the exciting maritime career opportunities available in our area.
You know, I thought when I retired from teaching eight years ago that my journey was complete. It never dawned on me that eight years later I would be helping to start a school. What an amazing journey.
(Carolyn Jurick was a teacher and principal for 33 years in the Cobb County Public School System before she retired in 2004. This article was written for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.)