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Newnan High, Atkinson Students Return to Classes As Work on Both Campuses Continues

Most Coweta County Students returned to the classroom on Monday, April 12, after school closures following the widespread damage left in the wake of the tornado which struck Coweta County and parts of Heard and Fayette counties and Coweta’s spring break.

Students at Atkinson Elementary School and Newnan High School – both of which were damaged significantly during the March 26 storm – returned to classes April 14.  Newnan High students began classes virtually, and Atkinson students held classes in temporary quarters at West Georgia Technical College’s Coweta campus.

West Georgia Technical College generously donated space in the campus’ “B” classroom building on Turkey Creek Road for Atkinson’s use. Students and parents toured campus on Tuesday to see their new classrooms and temporary cafeteria, and to get “Atkinson Elementary Goes to College” t-shirts to celebrate.

“It went great,” said Principal Ben Tarleton, about his staff and student’s move this week to West Georgia.  “Everybody has adjusted well.  The kids seem to be excited, and teachers are happy and glad to be with their kids.”

About 300 Atkinson students are on the West Georgia campus, not including the Atkinson students who have opted for virtual learning.  Work on replacing the Atkinson roof and repairing interior damage after the March tornado has begun.  Atkinson staff and students are expected to remain at West Georgia for the rest of the school year, ending May 28, but return to their school in August.

Newnan High School teachers – operating out of central offices, home offices and school buildings around Coweta County – re-engaged with their students Wednesday also to finish out the last 6 weeks of school.  Some teachers and students found creative ways to prepare for AP tests and other end-of-school activities, and school Spring sports carry on in locations and fields across the county. About 1,600 of Newnan High’s 2,340 students were taking in-person classes on campus before March 26.

“Our staff did a phenomenal job transitioning back to virtual learning, in part because of the things they experienced and the approaches they developed last year,” said Principal Chase Puckett.  “We are identifying students who don’t have reliable internet access, and working on ways for them to have school and finish the academic year successfully.”

NHS staff also shared tentative senior spring events with students today (found on the NHS website at http://nhs.cowetaschools.net) including Prom, senior picknick, the Cougar Walk and 2021 Graduation plans, among others 

Puckett wrote to parents and students on Wednesday to keep them apprised of “where we are right now in our tornado recovery efforts, and keep you updated on our plans to be back on campus.”

Puckett and Superintendent Evan Horton told parents that the school system’s insurance partners, district personnel, and safety and engineering experts are on the NHS campus working to compile detailed assessments of the damage to NHS.  “They have made great headway in cleaning up debris in order to provide safe access to the campus.  They are also working closely with our staff in inventorying all that was lost or damaged on our campus. While we know this can feel like a slow process, I do want you to know that we are all working as hard as we can to get our school back up and running as quickly and as efficiently as we can.”

Superintendent Evan Horton updated the Coweta County School Board members at their Tuesday meeting that an official assessment of the damages to our campus is expected by mid-May.  The assessment will allow the school and school system results to develop a more detailed timeline for phased plan of recovery and return to on-campus facilities..

“For now, we are currently finishing out this semester with our students attending classes virtually,” Puckett told parents.  “Our staff members are hard at work doing everything we can to minimize the academic disruption for our students.”

Puckett also assured parents that “we will have face to face instruction, with our Newnan High School teachers, for Newnan High School students next year. We are committed to doing everything  we can to ensure that all our students can have as close to a normal learning experience as possible throughout this year and going forward.”

“Know that we are looking at several options, while we keep in mind that the best model of instruction is face to face with our students and teachers on our campus,” said Puckett.  “This remains a constant guiding priority as we make this journey together.  While there is a lot of speculation, know that nothing has been decided at this time.”

While final assessments are pending, Principal Puckett and Superintendent Horton said that several buildings on campus may have the potential to be up and running sooner than others.  Though nothing has been determined yet, Puckett said that may allow the school to move forward with some end-of-year activities on campus.

Horton echoed that priority, telling NHS seniors this week that “you will be celebrated in graduation, in person, on field.  It is my top priority, if at all possible, that that field will be in Drake Stadium. It is also my priority to conduct as many traditional Senior activities as possible so that you can have the proper closure to your high school career.”

Horton praised NHS teachers and staff for their response after the tornado, and in re-organizing themselves quickly to serve their students.  “On a moment’s notice, once again, you have worked to shift your focus to your students’ needs wherever they, and you, are,” he said.  “I am also amazed at how the spirit of Newnan High is alive and well and strong, even as you operate from locations throughout our community.  This spirit will continue to be a driving force in our continued recovery.”

“In the weeks after the tornado struck, I saw you on the streets of Newnan, along with other members of Coweta Schools staff and our community, helping any way you could,” Horton said to the NHS staff.  “I know that you bring that same spirit to finishing this school year. Keep your focus on that, and we will focus on fixing the bricks and mortar.”

“To our parents, let me assure you that Newnan High will live up to its commitments to our families,” Horton said.  “It will take some time, even as we work quickly, to properly assess the damage and the scope of work.”

Horton said that it is apparent that some buildings and areas on campus are damaged more than others. As the damage and needed recovery work is assessed, “please know that it is my intention to offer in-person instruction to all Newnan High School students who wish to receive it at the start of the next school year. Our district staff and school leadership team are working day and night to devise plans to accomplish this goal.”

“It is also my intention to return students to the Newnan High campus, when that is restored to its safest and best condition, and to do that as quickly as possible,” Horton said.