Wendy Ingram, assistant principal at Rossville Middle School since 2006, will be principal at the new school, under construction in Rock Spring. Ingram was selected in January.
“Walker County is where I live and where my children go to school and so I have a vested interest here,” Ingram said. “We are going to be able to see kids grow from kindergarteners through eighth grade. It’s going to be amazing what we can do.”
Sherry Evatt-Smyth will be assistant principal. She was academic coach at Ridgeland High School this year and at Rossville Middle School from 2006-12.
“When the concept of Saddle Ridge came out,” Evatt-Smyth said, “I immediately knew I wanted to be there.”
Construction of the $15 million building, paid for in part with ESPLOST (education special-purpose local-option sales tax) funds, is on track. It will be completed in time for the faculty to begin moving in this summer, according to officials.
One advantage of having a combined elementary-middle school is the familiarity students will have with the faculty in their transition from elementary to middle grades. The second floor is for the middle school students.
“They won’t have that fear of going off to the big middle school,” Ingram said.
The building is designed for project-base learning. Classes can combine during certain lessons, using oversized 30-foot-wide hallways as a larger learning lab.
The school will be equipped with the latest technology such as smart boards and mobile iPad labs.
“We will be looking at integrating STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) principles into our classrooms,” Ingram said. “We are really building a culture and a climate in the community.”
The number of faculty has yet to be determined, but many of those educators will come from LaFayette Middle and Cherokee Ridge Elementary schools. The school system’s redistricting will also provide some teachers.
One consideration in redistricting and for choosing the Saddle Ridge staff is the inevitable closure of LaFayette Middle School Sixth-Grade Academy. That closure is necessary due to state regulations that sixth- through eight-graders be taught in a traditional middle school setting.
The Walker County school system decided several years ago to alleviate overcrowding at LaFayette Middle School by setting up the Sixth-Grade Academy in the former LaFayette High School on Cherokee Street.
The concept was a success and was granted a two-year waiver for closing, while the Saddle Ridge school has been in the works.
Ingram said some parents have been about the school’s athletic program. She plans for the Saddle Ridge Mustangs to “hit the ground running” and be a part of the North Georgia Athletic Conference next year. Dustin Madaris will be the athletic director.
All sports that use a gymnasium will be held at the school, along with a football program that will play on a combined football-soccer field, which will also be ready in the fall.
Baseball and softball teams will play at the Rock Spring Athletic Association facilities in exchange for use of the combined field for little league football and soccer programs.
In addition to the traditional gym, the building will feature another large space, which Raines nicknamed the “Cafagymnatorium,” which features a dividing wall separating a stage adjacent to the cafeteria, which can also be used as a gym.
Selection process, educational background
The three-step process of choosing the school’s leadership team began in November 2012.
Both women were selected from dozens of applicants, after interviews and a leadership presentation to a panel of central office personnel.
Ingram has spent 17 of her 19-year education career in the Walker County school system.
She taught eighth grade at Rossville Middle School for two years (1994-96), prior to serving as an assistant principal for the past six years. She was a sixth-grade teacher at LaFayette Middle School (1996-99 and 2000-04), in addition to one year as a fifth-grade teacher at Naomi Elementary.
She received her bachelor’s degree in education from Georgia Southern University in 1994, her master’s degree in middle grades education from Berry College in 1997, and a specialist degree in educational administration and supervision from Lincoln Memorial University in 2001.
Sherry Evatt-Smyth began her education career teaching youngsters in Hamilton County (Tenn.) elementary schools from 1988-97.
She then taught English at Ooltewah Middle School for six years and Southeast Whitfield High School for one year.
In 2006, she transitioned to become an academic coach at Rossville Middle School, working alongside Ingram for several years.
Evatt-Smyth has a bachelor of science degree in elementary education from Western Kentucky University and received both a master’s degree and specialist degree in education administration from Tennessee Tech University.
She was unaware of Ingram’s selection as principal upon applying to become the school’s assistant principal.
“We have had very different classroom experiences through the years to pull from,” Ingram said.
“Our strengths (as teachers and leaders) are quite different and I think we balance each other very well,” Smyth said.
Evatt-Smyth taught for nine years in elementary education and faced the challenge of a combined school while at 21st Century Academy (K-12), prior to starting with Walker County schools.
“I have seen the way that it can work. (We) had some tough kids at that schools and I was able to take those kids and get them involve with the younger kids and it made a great difference,” Evatt-Smyth said.
Ingram plans for similar collaboration among the younger and older students next year.
“We have already been kicking around ideas of reading buddies and science buddies,” Ingram said. “There are so many opportunities for the older kids that can work together with younger students.”
As a teacher at Naomi Elementary she had her fifth-graders read to first-graders to benefit both age groups.