CCSD Receives 2023 Leading Edge Award

December 1, 2023

The Clarke County School District has been announced as one of the winners of the 2023 Leading Edge Award by the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA). In its fifth year, the award recognizes school systems throughout the state for their innovative design and implementation of projects and programs that are having a significant positive impact on student achievement and engagement.

CCSD won the award based on its collaboration with the University of North Georgia’s Oconee campus on the Nighthawks Student Opportunities for Accelerated Readiness (SOAR) summer academic enrichment program. Launched in 2019, the three-week, camp-like program is held on the UNG campus in Watkinsville and is designed for middle school students (grades 6-8) from economically disadvantaged and/or English Language Learner households who do not qualify for summer school but who CCSD believes would benefit from a program that keeps them academically engaged during the summer break. 

Over the course of the program, students participate in creative, hands-on activities in the areas of science, math, English, and research – culminating with a juried research symposium that allows students to practice their written and oral communication skills and to celebrate their achievements and completion of the program with their families. The program also provides students with a better understanding of the college application process, financial aid and scholarship opportunities, dual enrollment opportunities, and study skills to help them begin planning for life after high school. 

Each year, CCSD and UNG staff, led by Dr. Gary Adcox, work together to identify students who are economically disadvantaged, non-native speakers of English, and future first-generation college students who would benefit the most from inclusion in the program. Because most of the students likely do not have the means to afford other local summer camps or academic enrichment opportunities that often require substantial financial commitment, the program is free of charge to students and their families. CCSD provides lunch for the students and then transportation to the UNG campus. UNG hires teaching staff recruited by CCSD, provides operational oversight, and secures sponsors for food, staffing, supplies, and activities. Other supporters include Georgia Power and Synovus Bank, who support programming in smart energy and financial literacy, respectively, and the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation, which provides art exploration opportunities. 

In its first year, the program served 35 students. After a two-year hiatus in 2020 and 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the program’s reach expanded to 62 students in 2022 and 77 students in 2023. Since its inception, the program has demonstrably improved academic performance and helped hinder the “summer slide” in student achievement. Students are given pre- and post-tests in each subject area at the start and end of the program, and in each of the last two years, they saw double-digit improvements from pre- to post-test scores in all subject areas – including average improvements of 30.1 points in science, 16.4 points in English, 12.5 points in math, and 11.4 points in research in 2023. 

CCSD was presented the Leading Edge Award on Friday, Dec. 1, during the Awards Breakfast at the GSBA’s annual conference in Atlanta. Superintendent Dr. Robbie Hooker and Board of Education President Dr. LaKeisha Gantt accepted the award on the district’s behalf. 

“We are always looking for innovative ways to move the needle forward in helping all students achieve at the highest levels,” said Dr. Hooker. “We are honored that our partnership with UNG and the SOAR program has been acknowledged by the GSBA in such a meaningful way.”