Downtown school uses innovation to map success

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One of the great milestones in recent Augusta history was the creation of Heritage Academy in 2000. Since that time the school, at 333 Greene St., has grown rapidly into an institution of excellence that is a wonderful addition to downtown Augusta.

Last month I had the pleasure of visiting the school as it prepared for its 10th anniversary. My wife, Connor, Ann Boardman and I were flat-out blown away with what we saw and heard that day. The executive director, Linda Tucciarone, a Brooklyn-born lady who bubbles with enthusiasm, shared with us many of the innovations that have taken place these past 10 years.

SINCE 2000, THE academy has grown from a handful of kids to a vibrant student body of 145. To be in the presence of these incredibly motivated and disciplined children is very special indeed.

Linda explained the concept of the school and the high expectations of all those involved -- staff, students and parents. As she outlined the curriculum, two aspects really dazzled us: Singapore Math and Superkids Reading.

The students who live and learn in the small nation of Singapore have ranked higher than any other nation in the world in math scores since the mid-1990s. Upon learning of these results, Linda and her leadership team asked themselves a simple but important question: Why not teach American kids using this approach? What a great decision. Test scores at Heritage Academy fully validate this system.

Another teaching system being used at Heritage Academy is the highly effective Rowland Reading Foundation's Superkids program, based on brain research and proven pedagogy. This is another example of the willingness of the faculty to use the best of the best as far as teaching techniques with strong learning outcomes.

Here are Heritage's basic rules: First, each child must make and sustain a commitment to learn and to study. Second, a parent or legal guardian must commit to a number of expectations -- being on time; tuition scaled to their income; purchase of uniforms; and providing lunch and transportation. Attendance also is required at report card conferences and parent meetings.

There are two significant ways that everyone reading this column can help Heritage Academy grow and thrive now and in the years ahead. First, sign up for the anniversary dinner, to be held Oct. 28 at the River Room of St. Paul's Church in downtown Augusta. Tickets can be obtained by calling the school at (706) 821-0034 or online at heritageacademyaugusta.org.

Another way to help is through participating in the best deal I have run into in a very long time. In fact, it is such a great deal for the school and for me personally, I signed up for it immediately.

An extremely innovative act of the Georgia Legislature in 2008 created the georgia GOAL Scholarship program, which allows tax credits of up to $2,500 for couples filing jointly. For instance, if you normally pay $3,000 in state taxes, you now have to pay only $500 if you write a check for $2,500 to Georgia GOAL and designate it for Heritage Academy.

BUT HERE IS THE really good deal: If you itemize your charitable deductions on your federal income tax form, you can deduct the full $2,500. In sum, you make money by giving it away. There is a short form that needs to be filled out. Contact the school for more information.

Another bit of good news: The Heritage Academy has decided to use the brand-new character and citizenship program that has been created by the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, the second private school in the nation to use this program.

(The writer, a retired U.S. Air Force major general, is the president of the board of trustees of the Augusta Museum of History and secretary of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. His e-mail address is genpsmith@aol.com.)

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