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State honors Chestatee Elementary as a Family-Friendly Partnership School
Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods signs autographs for students at Chestatee Elementary on Monday after naming it a Family-Friendly Partnership School. - photo by Micah Green

NORTHEAST FORSYTH — A local elementary school was visited by “the boss of all schools” Monday, as the principal explained it to her students.

During a ceremony for the student population, teachers, family members and local officials, Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods congratulated Chestatee Elementary for being named a Family-Friendly Partnership School.

Chestatee is one of just five schools in the state to receive the designation, which lasts for five years. They were chosen from nine finalists that had been narrowed down from 20.

The state Department of Education launched the Family-Friendly Partnership School initiative in 2010 to assist Title I schools, families and communities in working together to create a welcoming environment on campus that leads to increased student achievement.

Title I schools receive additional federal funding to help their high percentages of students from low-income families meet educational goals.

Winning characteristics at Chestatee, according to the state education department, included personalized phone calls to parents, an inviting and informative front office and campus and bilingual staff members to form relationships with Spanish-speaking families.

Community partnerships forged with the school led to a program called Project Connect, which provided home devices and Internet access for qualifying students who may otherwise be without.


“It’s a family”


Although Chestatee is the oldest school in Forsyth County and Faith Patton is not originally from the area, she said she wasn’t surprised it received this honor.

“From the moment I walk in the front door, I’m greeted by friendly faces in the front office,” said Patton, who has a third- and a fifth-grader enrolled there.

Her seventh-grader, who goes to Little Mill Middle School, entered kindergarten at Chestatee when their family moved to Forsyth.

“It comes from the top down,” she said.

She mentioned the Watchdog Dads, who volunteer in school, and the Chestatee Chicks, some of whom run the media center.

Patton is a vice president of the school’s Parent Teacher Association. She said one of the more memorable actions that illustrated the school’s family-friendly ways is when Chestatee’s administration changed the father-daughter dance to a family dance so as to not exclude male students or girls who don’t live with their father.

“Lots of people are not from here,” she said, “so school is not just a place to learn. It’s a family.”

State Superintendent Woods echoed the importance of engaging parents and communities in a child’s education.

“That’s where education begins. I think for an individual who sees various levels of parental support, it’s important to have that,” said Woods, a former elementary school teacher. “What we hope to do is to allow our parents to help in the educational process and be supportive so we, as teachers, can actually work with them.

“As we work together, we can accomplish much, much more than just being out in isolation.”

As many as 10 Title I schools can become a Family-Friendly Partnership School annually.

At the beginning of the school year, Cumming and Midway Elementary schools received the award, meaning all three Title I elementary schools in the Forsyth system have done so.

“I think it’s very reflective as far as the leadership, the support of the local board and community businesses, as well, that are really coming together as a family,” said Woods, who took office in January.

He made his first visit to Forsyth County last week to honor Forsyth Central for becoming the sixth high school in the state to receive STEM certification.

“You better get used to coming to Forsyth County,” local School Superintendent Jeff Bearden told Woods.