As she stands beneath the giant blue and orange Avengers logo that towers above the Alliance Academy for Innovation gym, Principal Brandi Cannizzaro states that in nearly 20 years of teaching, she has come to understand that passion and relationships are what make schools and educators great.
“Our motto for next year is ‘find your passion, choose your path, experience alliance,’” Cannizzaro said. “When students leave us after four years, we want them to have an idea and know where they are headed in the future.”
And in little over a month, the first students will walk through Alliance’s front doors, headed towards the future Cannizzaro and her staff have been working towards for years.
Cannizzaro said that Alliance Academy for Innovation, the district’s seventh brick and mortar high school, will be run in a new and unique way, which gives students the ability to choose what they want to study with a specific career goal in mind.
The school will have five career, interest-themed academies; aerospace and logistics, health care and first responders, hospitality and design, criminal justice and law, mechatronics and energy, each academy with different special facilities and workspaces, like flight simulators, medical simulations and a model courtroom designed to put students in the heart of what they are studying.
“We really want to meet the needs of all students and have that path or passion for every kid,” she said. “With the pathways we are offering, we feel as if there is something for everyone.”
A native of New Orleans and Forsyth educator since 2004, Cannizzaro was appointed to the position of Alliance Academy Principal in late 2016. Previously she worked in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties as a teacher, at South Forsyth High School first as a math teacher and then as assistant principal. For the last three years, she has served as assistant principal at Lambert High School.
The Alliance principal said that she knew even as a teenager that she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. She said that having strong, positive educator role models ultimately solidified the decision for her.
“I think I was about 16 when I decided I wanted to be a math teacher, I had a fabulous teacher for algebra and calculous at the time, and that’s where I really developed my love for math and enjoyed helping the other students with tutoring,” she said. “And my mom has been an educator for going on 45 years, so I’ve always had a strong educational family.”
She said that from her mother, a teacher at Riverwatch Middle School, she learned how much impact a good educator student relationship can make on a child, and how long that impact can last.
“She is pretty well known as that teacher that kids come back to year after year, and even 20 or 30 years later send an email to her,” she said. “She really made a difference in their life and I think it’s the relationship.”
Cannizzaro said that Alliance will take that idea of relationships and use it to hone in on what students are passionate about.
“I think that passion is huge, because if they are passionate about that content or topic, it’s going to make it easier to learn,” she said. “Just in real life, if you are passionate about something, it makes that task much easier to do, more enjoyable ... It just makes it much more exciting.
Not only will teachers be focused on what their students are passionate about, but according to Cannizzaro, Alliance core and pathway teachers will work together to reinforce students’ passions across subjects.
“What’s exciting and different about Alliance is we are really transforming that high school experience,” she said. “Students still take core classes, but they get to spend part of their day concentrating on that passion or pathway.”
This could mean that students in the criminal justice and law pathway might have their social studies lessons focused through that pathway’s lens, or health care and first responder pathway classes through a scientific lens. In this way, she said students will have room to experience the things they are curious about, before ultimately deciding what they want to do.
“It shows those connections and really makes the learning relevant for students, and that’s one thing that is very different than our traditional high schools,” she said. “We want them to experience different careers here at Alliance, so they make a better informed decision about to major in college, and what they want that career to be.”
The Alliance Academy for Innovation will open its doors to the public during a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. July 21.