Forsyth County Schools held a grand opening for its new Academies for Creative Education facilities on Saturday, July 24, before the start of the 2021-22 school year.
The new facilities, located at 1130 Dahlonega Highway near downtown Cumming, houses the school system’s three alternative learning programs — Forsyth Academy, Gateway Academy and Forsyth Virtual Academy.
The programs used to be housed separately in three different district buildings, but this new facility will allow the programs to come together to share more resources and open them up to more space, with 71 classrooms and a capacity for more than 5,600 students.
Community members and families gathered in the main lobby of the three-story building for the grand opening ceremony where Superintendent Dr. Jeff Bearden kicked off the event.
He thanked Board of Education members Kristin Morrissey, Tom Cleveland, Darla Light and Lindsey Adams for their attendance and help through the process of opening the new school for Forsyth County’s kids and community.
Bearden also thanked leaders of the district’s facilities department, including Chief Facilities Office Matt Wark, Director of Construction Tom Wening, Director of Planning Greg Pruitt and Facilities Planning Manager Jan Selz.
The department has worked tirelessly over the past few years to bring several new schools and facilities to the school district. Just this summer, the district opened East Forsyth High School and Hendricks Middle School along with the new ACE building.
These projects were made possible through a $295 million bond approved by voters in 2018.
Principal Drew Hayes also played a huge role in the opening of ACE, and Bearden said he and his leadership team “do a great job every year providing quality programs and services for our students who are engaged in alternative forms of education.”
Morrissey said students choose to attend ACE for a variety of reasons. Whether they want a fresh start, to thrive better in a smaller classroom environment, find the different school hours work better for them, or enjoy the independence that the virtual academy allows them, ACE is a great option for students outside of a traditional school.
“Whatever the reasons, at Forsyth County Schools, we know that education is not a one size fits all situation,” Morrissey said. “With the opening of this new facility, centrally located within our county, success stories and access to our students have just risen to a new level. And ACE will no longer be the best kept secret in the Forsyth County School system.”
Hayes is excited to see the opening of this new facility, which could offer even more students in the county alternative paths to an education.
“I believe we’re here for three reasons, and this needs to be the legacy for a long, long time,” Hayes said. “We need to be willing to give people another chance, we need to find another way and we need to be a home team for kids and families.”
The principal said he believes that each and every student in Forsyth County should have as many opportunities as they need to receive their education and find success both in school and in life.
He pointed out that he has two children of his own, and they each need to be parented differently because they have individual needs. And he believes the same is true for all kids and students, especially when it comes to education.
For Hayes, ACE is an opportunity for kids to find what is right for them and find a team of educators and leaders who will be there to support and stand behind them.
“A building does not provide a sense of home,” Hayes said. “It takes people to come in to give it the warmth, to give it the love, to give it the guidance, to give it the patience to make that happen. We’re committed to doing that here.”
Following the grand opening ceremony, guests headed outside to see members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9143 raise the flag at ACE for the first time.
District and county leaders then gathered for the ribbon cutting ceremony where Hayes officially opened the school to the community.
BOE member Tom Cleveland served barbecue to guests for lunch before they took self-guided tours through the building.
Some notable stops for guests included the school’s gymnasium, media center and gaming lab, all of which showcased just some of what ACE has to offer students starting on the first day of school on Thursday, Aug. 5.