What’s new this school year in metro Atlanta?

A new school year begins Tuesday in several metro Atlanta school districts.

With it come the annual headaches of more traffic, rousting children out of bed and helping the kids with last-minute homework assignments.

The new school year also comes with changes. Here are some new things happening in some schools throughout the region and across the state:

New leaders

The Decatur and DeKalb school systems have new superintendents this year. Gyimah Whitaker comes to Decatur from Fulton County, where she was the deputy chief academic officer. In DeKalb County, Devon Horton is the new superintendent. He was superintendent of the Evanston/Skokie School District 65 just outside of Chicago. In Clayton County, the school board this summer removed the interim title from its superintendent, Anthony Smith.

New schools

Atlanta Public Schools is opening a new school, as well as a remodeled one.

Virginia-Highland Elementary, a new school for pre-K through fifth graders, will open Tuesday in the former Inman Middle School building. The decision to rezone 850 students from different elementary schools to relieve overcrowding was met with opposition last year.

Atlanta Public Schools officials have converted the building that formerly housed Inman Middle School into Virginia-Highland Elementary School. (Vanessa McCray/vanessa.mccray@ajc.com)

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The district has also remodeled Benteen Elementary School, which moved to a temporary location last school year. Students will return to a refurbished building on Cassanova Street in southeast Atlanta. APS says Benteen’s renovation includes a new security vestibule at the front entrance of the building.

New school features

Another APS elementary school, Bolton Academy, will get a new media center this year.

Elementary school gymnasiums at Henry County schools will, for the first time, have air conditioning. The district completed the project to install HVAC systems in the district’s 28 elementary buildings at the end of the last school year. Prior to the installation, the district used large fans to cool the gyms, which parents for years said was insufficient.

New security measures

Staff at all Gwinnett County schools are equipped with new badges that allow them to call for help from anywhere on their campus. Most of the time, teachers or other staff will use the Centegix CrisisAlert system to report a medical incident or call for an administrator to intervene when needed. In extreme instances, staff can use the badge to trigger an immediate lockdown and call for authorities.

Henry County schools have switched to one-point entries and will have security monitoring on all other doors, including detection of any doors left open, said Superintendent Mary Elizabeth Davis.

Fulton County is rolling out technology called “Checkmate,” which is aimed at making it safer and easier to sign into school buildings.

New laws

The Georgia Legislature passed several new bills this year that became law that will impact public school classrooms this fall. House Bill 147 doubles down on safety drills in schools, requiring that administrators participate and that the state be alerted that the drills were held. It also encourages qualified teachers to obtain anti-gang training and requires that the drills focus on “intruder alert” situations. House Bill 340 ensures teachers have free time to plan their lessons during the school day, time that also could be used to study safety plans.

A new focus on literacy

Jennifer Dallas reads a book with her fifth grade class at Heards Ferry Elementary School in Fulton County. She's teaching them to make inferences using a book called "The Broken Bike Boy and the Queen of 33rd Street." Fulton's school district has begun a $90 million effort to improve student literacy. (Martha Dalton/martha.dalton@ajc.com)

Credit: Martha Dalton

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Credit: Martha Dalton

State lawmakers earlier this year passed the Georgia Early Literacy Act, which calls for “high-quality” instructional materials aligned to the “science of reading,” which it defines as research that identifies “evidence-based” approaches. They passed another bill to create a council that will review existing literacy programs, hiring experts. Several school districts are already working on efforts to improve student performance. Fulton County requires all elementary school teachers to undergo a two-year training program aimed at improving literacy instruction. More than 800 DeKalb teachers are enrolled in a similar program.

What isn’t so new?

Gwinnett County’s Harmony Elementary School is celebrating its 100th year of operation.

The school in Buford is named for the Harmony community and opened in 1923 with two teachers and two classrooms, according to a historical summary on the school website. Eighty students across seven grades were enrolled, but only 52 actually showed up. Teachers had to work without many resources — a ledger from that first year lists equipment as desks and “not sufficient amount of blackboard.” They also had no maps, charts, globes, pictures, library or reference dictionary.

Things have changed there over the years. The school had more than 600 students last school year.