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September 17, 2014

New Genesis principal is a dream maker

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Posted: Monday, August 25, 2014 9:56 pm

Genesis Alternative Education Center is a school for students who don’t fit the mold of the typical high school student. Located adjacent to Winterboro High School on Alabama 21, Genesis offers a program designed for students who commit major offenses or continuously repeat intermediate offenses at their base school.

While a student is assigned to Genesis, the student is not allowed on any other Talladega County Schools campus, which includes participating in extracurricular activities such as football games.

Odysseyware, a computer program aligned with the Alabama State Course of Study and standards, is primarily the type of instruction used at Genesis. Students also may use another computer-based program called Success Maker, which provides additional support in reading and mathematics. Students also participate in physical education and Think First, which is a face-to- face program designed to help students make better choices.

Five certified teachers/principals and three support staff members also direct, remediate and reinforce academics as needed. In the 2013-2014 school year, Genesis had an enrollment 114 students. The average enrollment for the past three years is 121.

The school originally opened in mobile units in 1990 with Michael Box as principal. In 1997, Dr. Donna King, the new superintendent of Talladega City Schools, was named principal, followed by Dr. Ola Curry, who just completed a nine-year tenure.

This year, Joann Swain, a former assistant principal at Munford High School, was named principal of the Genesis school. She already has special feelings about her new position.

“I believe the reason (Talladega County Superintendent) Dr. (Suzanne) Lacey named me principal is because she knows I am a dream maker not a dream taker. She knows that I have a special interest in teens with challenges.”

Swain said her interest in teenagers started at Kingston Missionary Baptist Church in Alpine, where she served as the youth director for 20 years.

“During that time, I also coached basketball at Talladega County Central High for six years,” she said. “I just feel a connection to high school students.”

Swain’s connection grew even stronger when she and all Talladega County employees heard John Croyle, founder of the Big Oak Ranch in northeast Alabama, tell his heart-warming story about changing the lives of boys and girls. Croyle spoke at the system institute in 2011. In his speech, he challenged all educators to be a “dream maker not a dream taker.”

Swain tells the story of one Munford High student she was an advocate for in 2011 who had dropped out of school her senior year, but who wanted to return to school the following year.

“Typically, 18-year-old students who drop out do not return to school, but I was determined not to be a dream taker, so I convinced the other administrators to give her chance,” Swain said. To her delight, the student passed all portions of the graduation exam and graduated.

After this success story, Swain adopted the term “dream maker” as her own, and is using it as the vision statement at Genesis. On every page of the student handbook, the phrase “Make your dreams a reality” is written. Swain said that she tells students, “To avoid broken dreams, participate now and take pride in having a second opportunity to make your dreams a reality."

Swain explains, “I want to ensure that every student that comes does not return for a second visit. I want them to successfully graduate with a diploma. Every day the students are graded on behavior and work performance.”

She said she personally reviews their folders on a weekly basis. Swain also plans to integrate physical activity into the daily curriculum. "I believe my students are just like other students in that they need to exert physical energy to release stress,” she said.

Another change for Genesis students implemented by Swain is the increased use of technology to stay in touch with the base school. “I had two students come for 45 days who were taking advanced math. I was concerned that they would get behind in their regular class, so I worked with the principal to use Edmodo, an online software program. This gives the students access to their assignments and the opportunity to video chat with their base school teacher to receive help.”

As she steps away from the position, Curry reflected back on her nine years as principal with several success stories as well.

“I am especially proud of the staff and students in the 2013-2014 school year because six seniors completed requirements for graduation. These students returned to their base school for the ceremony,” Curry said.

She also specifically remembers one student who repeatedly returned to Genesis because of failure to comply with the rules at his base school.

“During his senior year, he was at Genesis the entire year, but he graduated from high school, and this year he graduated from college,” Curry said.

Swain is excited about her new role as the leader at Genesis. She realizes the challenges she faces, but is determined to stay focused on being a dream maker and making many more lasting memories, just as her predecessor did.

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