Despite budgetary challenges, the new Advanced Placement academy at Laney High School is expected to be up and running when school starts Friday.
Richmond County Science Coordinator Stacey Mabray, who is heading up the project, said the academy should boost Laney's academics and give students at the inner-city school more opportunities.
"It's created a lot of buzz and interest in Laney," Ms. Mabray said.
All high schools in the county offer AP classes, but Laney has historically offered very few of the rigorous courses.
Students who take the classes, offered through the College Board, can sometimes earn college credit while still in high school.
In its first year, the academy will be open only to Laney students, offering a greater variety of AP classes than had been offered at the school. In the academy's second year, the plan is to open it up countywide so that any Richmond County public school student can take advantage of it.
This summer, College Board staff went to Laney to train its faculty and build a culture for the increased rigor, Ms. Mabray said.
She hopes to capitalize on the momentum that began at the school last term. Laney's graduation rate had lingered among the worst in Georgia, but it rose to 56 percent for the Class of 2009, an increase of 25 percentage points.
Ms. Mabray said research has shown that exposing students to the challenge of an AP class -- even if the student doesn't score well enough to earn college credit -- increases the student's likelihood of success.
Despite concerns from some parents, there will be no forced busing to Laney, she said. Schools will continue to offer the same AP classes they currently offer. Westside High School will form its own AP academy.
Laney's academy is about practicality, Ms. Mabray said, using foreign languages as an example.
"We can't possibly offer every language at every school," she said. "Sometimes you need to consolidate your efforts."
The AP academy will be able to offer classes that previously wouldn't have been offered because of the low interest at each school, Ms. Mabray said.