SAGE Academy: The misconceptions about alternative schooling

    There are a handful of reasons why a student might feel inclined to switch high schools: they’ve been expelled, they want a clean start in a new location or they are simply unsatisfied with their current education. In addition, many students transfer high schools within the same community for better academic, social and extracurricular opportunities.

    Darius Horton attended Northwood for three years before transferring to SAGE (Student Achievement Guarantee in Education) Academy, where he graduated in 2016. He aspired to play college basketball, but his grades were not sufficient enough at Northwood to reach that goal.

    While Horton attended SAGE to further his academic career, he also enjoyed the benefits that he received during his senior year that he would not have experienced at Northwood.

    “SAGE is a good school; it’s not bad like people would think,” Horton said. “The teachers are chill, and they only want to help you succeed. Plus, the principal for SAGE was my guy, so that made it better. The best benefit for me that I had at SAGE is that I got out every day at [noon]. I could have graduated early, but I decided not to so I could play basketball. I saw my friends every day at football or basketball, so SAGE gave me no drawbacks personally.”

    Principal Justin Bartholomew compared the general nature of SAGE to Northwood.

    “SAGE Academy provides students with an opportunity to get a 22-credit diploma,” Bartholomew said. “For Northwood, you need 28 credits to graduate. Also, SAGE has the Chatham County School for Science and Engineering (CCSSE), so they have a separate school now that is just STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) focused. There are a lot of online classes [at SAGE]. SAGE students still can participate in NHS extracurricular activities in many instances. SAGE and [CCSSE] function on a college schedule, [meaning] it doesn’t function on a Aug. 29 to June 9 schedule.”

    Sophomore Johnny Mazurek attended Northwood for a year and a half before transferring to SAGE. He was motivated to switch schools in order to be at the same school with his older brother.

    Since there are much fewer students attending SAGE compared to Northwood, Mazurek believes that the smaller class sizes are beneficial.

    “I feel like I have a better relationship with my teachers,” Mazurek said. “They have more one-on-one action with you, and they really get to know you, because there are only 30 people. I like going to school more; I wake up in the mornings and I’m more excited for my day, so I’m not as moody in the mornings as I used to be.”

    Jennifer Saylor, a guidance counselor for SAGE, explained how the transfer process works.

    “With a few exceptions for special circumstances, we accept applications twice each year, for fall and for spring semesters,” Saylor said. “The process typically begins with students being referred by a school counselor who recommends SAGE for their particular situation. We have a two-part application: one part is for the student and family to complete, the other part is for the school. After we receive the application, we audit the student’s transcript to see what classes are needed. We contact the family to set up an interview where the interested student and family come in to meet with us. At that meeting, we can better assess the student’s needs, and the student and family can learn more about our program and ask any questions they may have.”

    Bartholomew believes some students might have a better experience following a nontraditional high school path such as SAGE.

    “I could probably come up with a dozen kids where I think SAGE would be a better fit, but they’re so ingrained with Northwood,” Bartholomew said. “They close out [their options] to SAGE, and to me, that is a big mistake. Even academic growth wise, SAGE has been crushing it the last several years. It’s a great opportunity that no one really pays attention to, because there is that perception that it’s a school where kids with problems go, and that is just not the case. I think SAGE is very well run; [Principal Bobby Dixon] is an exceptional principal, and he’s got some teachers over there that are top notch.”

    Students wishing to transfer to SAGE must already be enrolled in a Chatham County School. The administration will consider any interested student, 10th grade and up, who wants the opportunity to earn credit.

    Misinformed students may have a negative perception of SAGE, according to Bartholomew.

“I think if you talk to the students that graduated from SAGE, they are very thankful that they went there,” Bartholomew said. “SAGE provided them a place to get their work done to graduate and move on to do whatever they want to do. The overwhelming majority of students are there because they want to be there.”

    Saylor believes that the negative perception of SAGE most likely surfaced from incomplete or inaccurate information about the school.

    “I have heard people say that they believe SAGE is where the ‘bad’ students go to school,” Saylor said. “There are two things wrong with that statement. One is that there are no ‘bad’ kids—there are young people who make poor choices and who need to learn more positive approaches to life or to problems. The other is that SAGE is a school of choice. Sometimes we do have a student or two who have been long-term suspended and are placed here by the superintendent, but 99 percent of our student population is made up of young people who just need or want a different pathway to high school graduation.”

– By Briana Stone