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Forsyth Academy receives graduation awards
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Forsyth County News

Brad Smith may never stroll down the red carpet, but he still knows the feeling of holding a few academy awards.

Smith, director of the county's first charter school, Forsyth Academy, recently accepted state and national awards for the school's graduation rate and highest number of graduates.

The Communities in Schools Performance Learning Centers presented the awards July 16 at the Perimeter Marriott in Dunwoody.

According to its Web site (, CIS is a community-based organization that deters "at risk" students from dropping out and brings resources into the schools.

"We're excited to get the recognition," Smith said. "It's nice to be recognized for these achievements."

The academy gives students who have faced academic and social challenges in traditional schools the opportunity to earn a diploma from the Forsyth County school system.

The past school year was the academy's third. Its graduation rate is 89.6 percent, with a total of 84 students having graduated from the academy.

The academy, located behind Lanier Technical College off Majors Road, will open with 85 students when the new school year starts Aug. 11. Smith said another 30 students are on a waiting list and more than 20 applications are on file.

Some academy students are there because they prefer smaller class sizes, while others have to work to support their parents.

"I think that one of the things we try to establish is what we call a positive interactive relationship," Smith said. "We want them to know we care about them and what's going on in their lives. ... They need to find ways to help themselves as well."

Personal relationships, Smith said, are "what a lot of these kids needed."

He also credits fundamental classroom differences in the academy's success.

"I really attribute it to the overall program," he said.

The program is a model established through CIS that allows for a classroom quite different from a traditional one.

For instance, Smith said, students have to "do a service learning project every year, so that's one component of it.

They have to learn the importance of giving back to the community."

Other major differences: students have the freedom to learn at their own pace; and classes are much smaller, about 15 students per teacher.

"They know what they have to do to be successful and complete the course," he said. "[It] allows them to take ownership of their own education versus the school taking ownership of their education."

Twenty-nine of the 40 CIS schools are in Georgia. Last year's statewide graduation rate, 72.3 percent, was an "all-time high" according to a statement from the Georgia Department of Education.

The overall 2006 graduation rate in Forsyth County was 81.2 percent. In 2007, the rate increased to 83.4.

"Our high school graduation rate is an area that our staff and community are continually working to find ways to improve," said Superintendent Buster Evans.

"The Forsyth Academy was established with that purpose in mind and has a huge impact on the lives of many Forsyth County Schools' students."

Evans and Smith both said the Board of Education has made the academy a priority, which made the endeavor successful.