Theme-based Athens elementary academies planned in 2018 | Limestone County

ATHENS — Athens school administrators’ goal is to have academies featuring different themes in place in the city’s elementary schools when they open their doors in the fall of 2018.

“It will take 15 months to build this, not 15 days,” said Athens schools Superintendent Trey Holladay. And, by next month, he hopes to have themes selected that will be a good fit for those schools and beneficial to individual students and the community.

“We’re a good school system,” Holladay said. “We’re in the top 15 in the state.” But he believes there’s a risk of losing students if the district doesn’t continue to create innovative programs.

Theme-based academies give students in public schools the choice of attending different schools than their own zoned schools and “getting what they desire,” Holladay said.

Garner Ezell, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, said the theme concept for elementary schools has been in existence since the 1970s. He has researched the impact the concept has on schools, and “the results I’ve seen look positive,” he said. “It helps build community within a school.”

The academy theme selections were announced Tuesday night at an informational session at Athens Intermediate School that attracted more than 100 people. The potential themes have been narrowed to six: fine arts, health and medical, computer science, classical studies, entrepreneurship and environmental studies.

Of those six themes, four will be chosen. Three academy themes will be selected for Athens Elementary, Brookhill Elementary and Julian Newman Elementary. The fourth will be held aside in case an additional elementary school is built in the future. Athens’ Cowart Elementary already has a theme.

The selection for academy themes is being determined through a process that includes teachers, parents and others in the community. A survey is available at to get input on the themes.

“We will continue to teach English/language arts, math, science and social studies and provide music, art and physical education” at each academy, Ezell said. Each academy will have an advisory council made up of parents, community members and teachers.

The four elementary schools’ zones will stay intact, according to administrators, and students will enroll in their zoned academy, with transfer requests considered based on available space. Transportation will be provided for students attending academies outside their zones.

Holladay said one of the challenges that could result is if, for example, 100 students apply for 25 slots that are available at a school. A random lottery would be used to determine which students get those slots, he said.

The first school to make the transition to an academy model will be Cowart Elementary, which has housed SPARK (Scientific Project-based…

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