As spring break passed, Garner Magnet High School’s new Ninth Grade Center sat idle, often with maybe one car sitting in the parking lot.
It’s the first non-weekend breath since the new facility opened on Jan. 22 after teachers hurriedly moved into the building during the weekend dividing semesters. So far, the building has fulfilled expectations as its occupants acclimate to the new digs.
“The biggest issue was the mid-year transition. We had teachers that had two days to put a class together and teach Jan. 22. They did it. They were teriffic,” said assistant principal Mark Maultsby, who also moved into the building. “When it opened, it opened smoothly.”
Though born from need, principal Drew Cook had touted the idea of separating the freshmen. Maultsby said he’s observed the effects that Cook and the team of administrators had hoped could come to pass. Discipline referrals are down, he said, along with attendance issues.
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“The kids seem to be more relaxed over here,” he said “which we knew would happen.”
Cook clarified that the school hadn’t had a chance to crunch the numbers on that data from the just-ended third quarter to draw concrete conclusions. He said he’d “be hesident to make any strong claims regarding improvement in these areas until we have a chance to dig a little deeper and be sure that our casual observations are being backed up by hard numbers.”
With ninth graders hanging with ninth graders, Maultsby said, maturity has a better chance to develop. The isolation also allows for more personalized instruction in a less vast, chaotic setting.
Freshman Brandon Schaefer has to walk to the main campus for two of his four classes, Spanish 2 and technology, engineering and design. He says there’s enough time for the walk, but not as much he’d like. He appreciated the new facilities and extra space, though he didn’t necessarily see a big difference not having sophomores, juniors and seniors around.
“When you’re around upperclassmen it doesn’t really bring you down that much,” Schaefer said.
Special education teacher Jenny Willis teaches in one of the mobile classroom buildings in the parking lot of the former movie theater that acts as the hub of the new facility. As she walked in a cold wind the week before spring break, she briefly lamented potentially facing the elements between classroom and the administrative part of the building, but quickly characterized the overall experience as positive.
“It’s been pretty good. I’ve enjoyed it,” she said of the shift.
Maultsby noted that there had been no extra allotment of teachers, so supervision roles – such as in a new lunchroom – had to be expanded.
“We’re asking them to do more. Their pay’s been cut because they haven’t had a raise since 2008, and we’re asking them to do even more. And they do it,” Maultsby said.
One issue mentioned as a concern at the South Garner High School town hall session was vandalism, with the freshman center used as an example.
Graffiti did mar some fencing that has since been removed, as well as a small section of the side of the former movie theater. In addition, a worker worked to paint replaced sheet metal undercover of one of the three mobile classroom buildings.
But Maultsby notes that the graffiti occurred before the school fully occupied the building and said there has been no issue since. As for the buildings’ apron?
“Some people said that people did that. That was actually the wind,” Maultsby said.