By John Schaffner
The end of winter break for Atlanta Public School students Jan. 6 brought a new experience for students attending
Sarah Rawson Smith Elementary School.
The school’s new Intermediate Campus, serving 433 of the 934 students, opened on Wieuca Road in north Buckhead, splitting the school into two campuses about a mile apart.
Third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students moved into the new two-story building, which “provided much needed space relief,” according to Dr. Sidney Baker, principal of both campuses, Kindergarten through second-grade students attend class at Sarah Smith’s Primary Campus on Ivy Road.
A split campus is nothing new for Sarah Smith Elementary students and staff. The kindergarten students have been attending class for about five years at the Buckhead Baptist Church on Roswell Road.
Baker said the problem of growing enrollments crowding Sarah Smith and other elementary schools in Buckhead had to be addressed. “We either needed to redistrict to send students to some of the less-populated schools in the Atlanta school system, or come up with another solution,” said Baker, who has been principal at Sarah Smith for the past decade. He said there was no support for redistricting.
It was decided that two campuses for the school made more sense than trying to build sufficient additional space onto the existing campus on Ivy Road.
Although the choice of the Wieuca Road property involved some controversy among some residents in surrounding neighborhoods, Baker expressed his delight with the new campus, the new classroom space and technology that enhances learning opportunities for students.
“We now have the space to better serve the children,” Baker said of his International Baccalaureate (IB) classified school. He said now that all Buckhead public schools—kindergarten through high school—are IB schools “it is a more viable option than sending children to private schools and 75 percent or more now stay in public schools.”
He said the new campus has a MacIntosh computer lab, interactive whiteboards in all classrooms and “a beautiful gymnasium that includes a stage and sound system” where the school can hold student performances “and people will be able to hear what is being said.”
Baker said the staff and students are still learning the new building and dealing with carpooling and buses at it. “But we are getting better at that.”
Even with the very cold recent weather, he said there have been some children using the new sidewalks along Wieuca Road to get to school. “We have a crossing guard down there,” he said. “I expect more will walk to school when the weather warms up.”
He said the primary campus on Ivy Road is larger in footprint, but the school facility is only one story. It has 23 homeroom classes and one gifted class. The new facility houses 20 homeroom classes and three gifted classes.
Baker said work is already in process for Phase 2 at the new campus, which would add eight new classrooms in a two-story addition to the new building. The Ivy Road campus has one classroom that presently is not being used that can accommodate future growth.
Baker said there are no new teachers assigned to the two campuses and class sizes remain the same—at or below that mandated by the state. The two campuses do share art, physical education and speech teachers.
Baker has offices at both campuses and two assistant principals: Freda Hamilton, who has worked with him for five years and is at the new campus, and Tommy Usher, who has worked with Baker for three years and is at the older site.
As for opening the new campus in the middle of the school year, Baker said, “It was a little strange. But it now gives us a semester to work out the bugs before a full school year begins. It would have been a longer process if we moved over the summer to begin the school year,” he added. “It played out to our benefit.”