By Jill Whitley | jill@newnan.com

For a number of years, Odyssey Charter School was Coweta County’s best-kept secret. Now the word is out, and the building is bursting at the seams. 

Opened in 2001, Odyssey is a tuition-free, public school of choice. Open to all Coweta County students from kindergarten through 8th grade, it offers amenities and opportunities to rival many of the area’s most exclusive private schools: Kindergarteners are assigned their own Chromebooks and given weekly Spanish lessons. Fifth graders play competitive sports. Middle schoolers can take guitar classes, join the robotics team, or perform with the school’s rock band. 

Public charter schools have to meet the same federal standards as traditional public schools, but have more freedom to determine how those goals are met. Thus, educational decisions are left up to a non-profit board of directors, often made up of parents and other community stakeholders. 

The result is an innovative, hands-on education in a student-centered environment. 

Principal Scot Hooper says that the primary key to student success is small class size: “Each classroom from kindergarten to 5th grade contains 20 students, a teacher, and a certified paraprofessional. This ratio allows us to notice things teachers in a larger classroom setting might miss.”

Odyssey uses these observations to deploy what Mr. Hooper calls an “Early Intervention Team” before most parents notice a problem with their own child: “During normal instruction time, our teachers will identify students that are struggling to keep up. Our Intervention team will then come in and work intensely with the student and their family until they are performing at grade level again.”

Sometimes, he says, the solution is as simple as referring a child out for a vision screening. But if the problem persists, Odyssey offers instructional coaching and a school psychologist to evaluate the student and create an individualized educational plan. 

Parents don’t know how Mr. Hooper manages to maintain laser-focus on student success in such an upbeat, familial environment, but they do know they want to come back- year after year, kid after kid, triggering the switch on the ‘No Vacancy’ sign:

“There’s always a waiting list,” Hooper says. “Especially for the early grades.”

So, after a few years of fundraising, the board met with an architect: “The immediate plan is to add six classrooms and some basketball courts. We’ll start by adding an additional kindergarten class next year, then an additional first-grade class after that, and go from there.”

“By the time these kindergarteners reach middle school, we’ll exceed capacity again,” Hooper predicted. “At that point, I think we’ll need a complete rebuild.”

The eventual number of students is a tough figure for Hooper to name: he’d love to welcome every child that wants to attend Odyssey, but believes very strongly in the school’s founding mission:  

“You’re going to find good schools in this county no matter where you go. But if you’re interested in your child being in a small, family-type environment that cultivates individual thinkers and lifelong learners, we welcome you to visit us.”

“Come during the school day when the kids are here. You really need to see the interaction and the warmth here– it’s the most significant component of what we do.”

For more information on enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year, or to schedule a tour, please contact school registrar Jill Chester at 770-251-6111, or visit www.odysseycharterschool.net.