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With School Enrollment Deadlines Looming, Middle School Choice May Be Toughest



Principal Todd Marschke greeting students with fist bumps in the school hallway. (Photos by Richard Phillips)

Although the second half of the school year has just gotten underway, it’s time for many parents and students to consider the transition from elementary school to middle school. It’s certainly not the only shift students make in their academic life, but it’s probably the most dramatic, most challenging and many say the most important.

During this time when children are going through physical, emotional and social changes, they are uprooted from a familiar setting and a routine that many have known for several years. Changing classes during the day, taking a different bus to school and often having to change out for gym class can be traumatic for even the most well-balanced individuals.

That doesn’t mean that it must be a scary experience.

Peachtree Corners has a hidden gem of sorts with Pinckneyville Middle School. Principal Todd Marschke is not only a long-time Gwinnett County Public Schools administrator, he lives in the neighborhood and his children have attended, currently attend or will attend the school.

“My own daughter went here my first year as principal,” Marschke said. “I have a son who attends now and another one who will be here soon. But all the students are my kids and I want the best education possible for all of them.”

Marschke is a product of Gwinnett County Public Schools where he attended Head Elementary, Shiloh Middle School, and graduated from Shiloh High School. He is also a graduate of Georgia State University. His teaching career started as a middle school gifted math and science teacher at Alton C. Crews Middle School. Marschke transitioned from Crews Middle School to Lanier Middle School for his first administrative position. For seven years, he served as principal in the Norcross cluster at GIVE Center West before coming to Pinckneyville in 2018.

Good relationships

In his many years of educating youngsters, he’s realized that it boils down to strong, healthy relationships.

“It all starts with relationships – with all the staff, with the students, with the parents,” he said. “If you leave yourself open to develop those trusting, nurturing relationships, you can do great things.”

It’s that kind of focus and dedication that drew PTSA mom Shana Cooper to the school. She currently has an 11-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son who attend Pinckneyville. She said right from the start Marschke made her feel welcome and showed that he’s an open, honest and reliable leader.

She cited an example of the TikTok craze where kids were encouraged to pull off pranks at school, such as clogging toilets with paper towels, slapping teachers on the behind, stealing school equipment and other forms of mischief.

“At a general meeting back in November he was just kind of talking about the upcoming year. … New students and parents were coming by and asking if it’s a dangerous school or a bad school,” she said.

Marschke asked parents not to confuse Pinckneyville issues with middle school issues. Every time kids make transitions they are exposed to new situations. For example, there is a lot more freedom and lot more kids in middle school than in elementary school.

Add to that COVID protocols and bouncing from in-person to virtual learning, and Marschke had a lot to deal with. The Tik Tok “devious lick” had to be dealt with swiftly and efficiently.

“The poor man has about 1,300 to 1,400 students at that school. And he’s got to basically parent and direct everyone through all of this COVID and Tik Tok, and just regular middle school craziness. And he does it with such a good outlook and such grace and positivity,” Cooper said.

“They isolated the situation [with the TikTok incidents] and figured out what kids are involved. They had the disciplinary action for them. And then they do a school wide announcement and usually an email,” Cooper added.

Marschke explained that it may seem cool to post hijinks on social media, but a lot of those situations can lead to bigger consequences like expulsion and trouble with the police. Fortunately, the Pinckneyville students got the message and the reign of capers was short-lived.

Great results

But Marschke likes to focus on the things that make his school shine.
As one of the few International Baccalaureate schools in the system, it has a high focus on academic excellence for all students.

“When you have high expectations, you help bring about high results,” he said.
Pinckneyville Middle School placed in the top 30% of all schools in Georgia for overall test scores (math proficiency is top 50%, and reading proficiency is top 30%) for the 2018-19 school year, according to Public School Review, a non-profit that provides free, detailed profiles of USA public schools and their surrounding communities.

It added that the percentage of students achieving proficiency in math is 49% (which is higher than the Georgia state average of 44%) for the 2018-19 school year. The percentage of students achieving proficiency in reading/language arts is 55% (which is higher than the Georgia state average of 45%) for the 2018-19 school year.

And as one of the most diverse schools in metro Atlanta, the administration makes extra efforts to showcase the various cultures and ethnicities. Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, International Night and many special celebrations in between foster an atmosphere of inclusion.

“I encourage anyone who wants to know more about Pinckneyville Middle School to come for a visit, attend an open house and/or call me directly,” said Marschke. “We have a lot to offer, and I believe every student can thrive here.”

Arlinda Smith Broady is part of the Boomerang Generation of Blacks that moved back to the South after their ancestors moved North. With approximately three decades of journalism experience (she doesn't look it), she's worked in tiny, minority-based newsrooms to major metropolitans. At every endeavor she brings professionalism, passion, pluck, and the desire to spread the news to the people.

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Arts & Literature

Norcross High School Students’ Art to be Featured at Dogwood



Atlanta High School Art Exhibition

The Atlanta High School Art Exhibition has become a staple of the annual Atlanta Dogwood Festival at Piedmont Park. Every year, talented high school students from across Atlanta come together to showcase their skills and creativity in an event that celebrates the power of the arts.

The exhibition takes place over the course of three days during the Atlanta Dogwood Festival. One of the largest art festivals in the Southeast, the Dogwood Festival will run April 14-16 this year.

This year, 14 Norcross High School (NHS) students in grades 9-12 have works selected from among hundreds of submissions from high school students across the state of Georgia — Gisela Rojas Medina (11), Beila Rivas (12), Luptia Ortiz (12), Journey Pierre (12), Eva Rios (9), Harlet Martinez Castro (11), Fatima Huerta Rodriguez (11), Madonna Phan (11), Katelynn Pallotto (12), Dani Olaechea (11), Katherine Martin (12), Elena Garson Padoan (12), Grace Peagler (12) and Le’Anah Smith (12).

The students have the opportunity to display their artwork in a professional setting, connect with other artists and potentially win awards for their work.

The exhibition showcases the best in high school art and is highly competitive. The artwork on display includes drawing, painting, sculpture, photography and jewelry pieces. Not only does the event showcase the students’ artwork, it also brings students together to create a community of young artists in the city.

Students explored a range of different art media and themes. Gisela Rojas Medina focused on creating work from photographs of herself as a child. She then printed them using cyanotypes and hung each faded photo to create a mobile reminiscent of childhood memories.

“This piece was inspired by my own faded and distorted memories,” Medina said.

The Atlanta High School Art Exhibition is free and open to the public. A Satellite Show will be held April 2-30 at the Limelight Gallery at Binders, 3330 Piedmont Road in Atlanta.

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Arts & Literature

North Metro Academy of Performing Arts Settles into Peachtree Corners



North Metro Academy. Photos by George Hunter

Gwinnett County’s first themed elementary school aims to incorporate arts education into a robust, imaginative, and collaborative environment.

“The arts are an essential element of education, just like reading, writing, and arithmetic. Music, dance, painting, and theatre are all keys that unlock profound human understanding and accomplishment.” — William Bennett, former US Secretary of Education

Those words were declared many decades ago, long before students and even some staff members at North Metro Academy of Performing Arts (NMAPA) were born. But the sentiment rings as true today as it did then. 

Gwinnett County Public Schools’ first themed elementary school, NMAPA is still somewhat of a hidden gem. Dr. Rodriguez Johnson, principal since the school was established in 2014, along with students, staff, and the community are working to change that.

“It’s amazing that we have over 40 different elementary schools represented in our community here. We have kids that come from Lilburn and Lawrenceville and Duluth and all over to attend our school, and it’s really about that close-knit family community,” said Johnson. 

“We have our kids learning the same curriculum that they do at every other elementary school,” he continued. “I think it’s just really our personal connections that really separate us from our sister schools.”

The purpose of the K-5 school, open to every Gwinnett County resident, is to give students the opportunity to develop unique interests, uncover hidden talents, experience satisfaction in accomplishments, gain a sense of responsibility and pursue education as a way of life through educational programs tailored to their own specific needs, according to the school website.

This hidden gem didn’t pop up overnight. It has been a dream of lifelong educator Beauty Baldwin. After decades of dedication to educating students in Schley, Muscogee, and Gwinnett counties, Baldwin retired in June 1994 as the first Black female superintendent of Buford City Schools, as well as the first in the entire state of Georgia.

Her commitment to education and her community is evident with a school and a municipal building named for her. In 2016, the Gwinnett County Board of Education dedicated Baldwin Elementary School in Norcross in her name. In 2020, a ceremony was held to dedicate Gwinnett County’s newly- renovated elections office as The Gwinnett Voter Registrations & Elections Beauty P. Baldwin Building.

Perhaps her passion for education and commitment to children and the community is most evident in the former Hopewell Christian Academy that opened in 1997, shortly after Baldwin thought she had put away her educator hat. Many years later, she admitted that one never stops being a teacher.

Baldwin served as Hopewell’s administrator for 16 years until it became a Gwinnett County Charter School. The move to the public school system came with a name change — North Metro Academy. In May 2021, the Gwinnett County Board of Education approved transitioning NMAPA from a public charter school to GCPS’s first themed elementary school.

But the work doesn’t end there.

Room for everyone

North Metro Academy of Performing Arts engages students in instruction that integrates the academics and performing arts in ways that address the unique needs and interests of each student, said Dr. Johnson. He added that, unlike the fictional school of the arts in the movie “Fame,” there’s no auditioning for a spot at NMAPA.

There is currently no wait list and no child within Gwinnett County is turned away.

“Before we moved onto this campus, we had around 320 students. We expect to continue to increase our enrollment each year,” Johnson said. “We’re really excited about our future and our continued growth. And we’re extremely excited about being here in Peachtree Corners and Norcross.”

Although Peachtree Corners is considered a more affluent area than many other parts of the county, the student body is quite diverse and there’s a place for everyone.

“I think a lot of families choose us because they know that when they come here, we are an extended part of their family and there is no judgment. Every kid is one of our students and we make sure that we build a rapport with all of them,” said Johnson.

“We have such a small staff that I think that really helps us build those relationships, too,” he added. “Our parents know the teachers and we treat everyone like family.”

The first group that started kindergarten at NMAPA will be transitioning from fifth grade to middle school at the end of the academic year. 

He said he gets requests from parents who want to see the theme extended to middle school, and perhaps even high school. However, Johnson is focusing on the ones in his care and preparing them for their best futures.

“Right now, we’re just trying to embrace our new space and continuing to grow our program,” he said. “Hopefully, one day, we will have so many students on the waiting list that we’ll have to have a bigger building.”

Photos by George Hunter

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Paladin Pacer 5K and Fun Run Debuts New Course



Paladin Pacer 5k and Fun Run

Pinecrest Academy’s 4th Annual Paladin Pacer race is set for Saturday, February 25. It’s open to all runners, walkers, and hikers. As in previous years, the Pacer includes a 5K event and a Fun Run.

The 2023 Pacer will debut two changes this year.

  • The entire 5K course will be run or walked on Pinecrest Academy’s 68-acre campus, which includes a cross-country trail. In previous years, the 5K portion of the event has run along Highway 141.
  • The 5K portion of this year’s Pacer will be a Trail Race. Trail running, running in a natural environment with minimal paved or asphalt roads, has become a popular sport. It increases the physicality of the race by adding climbs and rougher terrain. Paladin Pacer participants should be ready for over two miles of scenic dirt trails, grass, and hills.

“As an avid runner, I am particularly excited about our transition to a trail race,” said Mary Tollett, Paladin Pacer Race Director. “Trail run enthusiasts usually have to travel to a destination, sometimes to rural locations, to participate in a trail run. But this one is right here in our neighborhood.”

Paladin Pacer 5k and Fun Run
Photo from Last Year’s Paladin Pacer 5k and Fun Run. This year the 5K will be a trail race on campus.

The 1-Mile Fun Run includes three laps around the school driveway, allowing parents to support their “little Olympians” throughout the race. It’s also perfect for the casual walker or jogger.

The epic costume contest will return this year. Cross-country teams are encouraged to participate as a group, as are families with children of all ages.

“We are thankful to be part of Forsyth County, a vibrant and growing community, and delighted to be able to offer a unique running experience for our neighbors,” said David O’Shea, Pinecrest Academy Director of Advancement. “The Paladin Pacer is an opportunity to come together for a fun community event while getting some exercise and trying out a new local trail run!”

Paladin Pacer 5k and Fun Run
Photo from Last Year’s Paladin Pacer 5k and Fun Run

Awards will be presented for Overall Male/Female and Top 3 Male/Female finishers in each age group, along with an award for Best Costume.

Registration is open, and the early bird rate for both the 5K and Fun Run is available through February 17. All participants registered by February 13 will receive a race t-shirt.

For more information on the 2023 Paladin Pacer and to register, visit active.com/cumming-ga/running/distance-running-races/paladin-pacer-trail-race-2023. Limited sponsorships are available. Please contact David O’Shea at doshea@pinecrestacadem.org or call 770-888-4477.

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