GPA Fall/Winter Commencement Exercises

Class of 2017 - Georgia Preparatory Academy

With goals set for continued scholastic success at the state’s 181st school district, Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Commissioner Avery D. Niles congratulated graduates of the Georgia Preparatory Academy (GPA) at the Tift College campus in Forsyth during the winter graduation. Combined senior classes from Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) secure facilities around the state crossed the stage at Roberts Chapel together in their caps and gowns and closed out the 2016 school year with their inspiring commencement ceremonies.

Commissioner Niles shook their hands and said, “You have managed to overcome many personal, family and social adversities to get here today.” The Commissioner awarded 26 GEDs, 14 High School Diplomas and 18 Vocational Technical Certificates of Credit.

A capacity crowd of families, dignitaries, DJJ educators and media participated in community recognition for the young offenders who distinguished themselves with their hard work and academic accomplishments while committed to state custody. In addition, 25 GPA students completed ACT testing modules for college admission requirements.

“It’s one of the great rewards of my job to witness the excitement of our students when we conduct these Georgia Preparatory Academy commencement exercises,” Commissioner Niles said. “And now their further success depends on them realizing this is the time to make positive changes,” Niles said.

Graduates attended from 12 Georgia Preparatory Academies at Youth Development Campuses (YDCs) in Atlanta, Augusta, Eastman, Macon, Muscogee and Sumter; Regional Youth Detention Centers (RYDCs) in Gainesville, Muscogee, Rome and Sandersville; the Intensive Treatment Unit (ITU) in Milledgeville; and from the Chatham Education Transitional Center in Savannah.

Students at DJJ are held to the same scholastic standards for earning their diplomas as pupils in Georgia’s traditional state schools. Students receive 330 minutes of regular or special education inside DJJ’s security barriers every school day. GPA curriculum also meets the same quality education standards set by the Georgia Department of Education for all public schools. The Georgia Preparatory Academy is a dually accredited state school district.

The graduates were saluted by the keynote speaker, Principal Dawn Parker from the Alonzo Crim Open Campus High School in DeKalb County. Principal Parker effectively doubled the graduation rate at her campus from 6.9 percent to 12.7 percent in the 2014-2015 school terms. Parker congratulated the GPA graduates for their resilience in accomplishing this major milestone, despite the many times they may have experienced humiliation, discrimination, frustration and failure. She encouraged the graduates to continue believing in themselves and to never forget the people who did not stop loving and supporting them.

“Don’t forget to repay those you love by giving back to others in need,” Principal Parker said. She advised the graduates to pay forward the debt for their success by preventing others from making wrong decisions in their lives. “If you can keep one person from making a wrong decision or redirect them from making the wrong choice, then you are fulfilling our greatest mission in life,” Parker said.

Commissioner Niles presented Principal Parker with a special projects check for $300.00, which was raised by the DJJ Executive Staff to honor her steady progress with graduation rates at the Alonzo Crim Open Campus High School.

In another special presentation, Arisha Dancy–Mattox, an English Language Arts teacher at Aaron Cohn RYDC, was named DJJ’s 2016 Teacher of the Year. Dancy-Mattox has been an educator for 11 years. She told presenters her personal philosophy is that “the best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book.”

Additional honors for Teacher of the Year finalists went to Joann Canady, a Math teacher at Macon RYDC; Charlotte Hall, Lead teacher at Claxton RYDC; Damien Northern, a Social Studies teacher at Metro YDC; and Janice Zeigler, an English Language Arts teacher at Macon YDC. Commissioner Niles and Dr. Richard Behrens, GPA Associate Superintendent of Schools, congratulated all the finalists for their dedication and professionalism.

Other special graduation guests included DJJ Board Members Willie Bolton, Julia Neighbors and Penny Penn. The Department of Juvenile Justice SMRT Team delivered the Presentation of Colors and Ms. Tina Thames performed the National Anthem.

Guest Speaker: Ms. Dawn Parker

Ms. Dawn Parker is a professional educator with 25 years of experience. She has been fortunate to serve in the capacity of a Teacher, Coach, Assistant Principal, Principal and Mentor. Throughout her tenure as Principal, she has effectively served diverse populations of students in grades Pre-K through 12th, within rural, suburban, urban and private school settings and ranging in size from 300 to over 2000 students. Successes within each of these learning environments were based on the implementation of sound systems driven by result oriented outcomes.

In July 2014, Ms. Parker became Principal of Alonzo A. Crim Open Campus High School in the Atlanta Public School System. Notable achievements relevant to Alonzo A. Crim thus far include: doubling the graduation rate from 6.9% to 12.7% in 2014-2015, acquiring Industrial Certification for the Engineering and Design program (the only non-traditional program in the state in 2014-2015); increasing the climate rating from two to three stars (2015-2016); renovating and unveiling the new 21st Century Media Center (2016-2017) and opening a new construction lab designed and built by Construction and Engineering students partnering with Parrish Construction (January 2017 completion date).

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The Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) is the 181st school system in the state of Georgia. Georgia Preparatory Academy (GPA) is the school located within the DJJ school system. There are 28 Georgia Preparatory Academy schools across the state of Georgia. Georgia Preparatory Academy is accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and the Correctional Education Association (CAE). All teachers, principals and guidance counselors hold certificates from the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.