Students will move into the new school, top photo, and performing arts center, left, in the fall of 2020. The city is planning on building an athletic complex, right, to support the school..

By John Mullen

August 6, 2019 – Orange Beach, AL – (OBA®) – A total of 42 staffers will be on hand Aug. 14 to open the first day at the new Orange Beach High School and Middle School. It’s the strength of those people, principal Dr. Erika McCoy says, that will determine the success of the schools.

“If you don’t get anything else right, get the people right,” McCoy said. “Because the people are what make the difference in our schools. If you look at our people from the top down – our custodians, our workers, our bus drivers, our teachers, our coaches and those that are going help with activities – they are student-centered people. All of these have a heart for kids. We built a team of servants.”

Dr. Erika McCoy, principal of Orange Beach High SchoolAmong those staffers will be 25 certified teachers, three administrators, nine support workers, three bus drivers and two school resource officers provided by the City of Orange Beach.                                        

“We look for innovators, yes we look for those push the limit for education, those that are going to make connections and build relationships with not only the students but their families and community partnerships,” McCoy said. “It’s just going to be the most interesting thing in the world to watch them evolve and come together as a team. I can’t tell you how proud I am to be one of that group.”                                                                                        

Orange Beach schools were featured during the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber’s First Friday Forum on Aug. 2 at LuLu’s at Homeport Marina. Yo Johnson of the Orange Beach Education Foundation gave a presentation on that group and McCoy, Orange Beach Middle School Principal Dr. Robbie Smith, elementary school Principal Ryan Moss and Superintendent Eddie Tyler spoke to the group about the upcoming school year.

Smith told the crowd about how all the teachers hired for the new schools were following the work of Robert Marzano’s book “The New Art and Science of Teaching.”

Dr. Robbie Smith, principal of Orange Beach, Alabama Middle School“As we’re hiring these folks, we’re asking them to buy into our instructional framework and when we brought them on board, we asked them to go to training,” Smith said, “Our training comes from the A+ College Ready and it includes the power to expect more. We sent all our content teachers to this training. It helps teachers take students to a deeper level of thinking. The teacher becomes the facilitator not necessarily the guide.

“They came back and told us this is the best training they’ve ever been to.”

Johnson said the OBEF paid for the professional development for these teachers with about $95,000 raised in the community. OBEF is also receiving support from the City of Orange Beach as well.

“The city has had the resolve to help our students, support our students in all aspects of education and through the opening of these schools,” Johnson said. “We have presented grants in robotics, calculators, science, technology, math programs, teacher professional development opportunities. We raised private funds to provide a two-week eco-camp for students at the Gulf Coast Center for Ecotourism and Sustainability.”

While strong academics will be a big part of the new schools, McCoy says a strong arts program is also in the works and will be led by Fine Arts Director Darren Butler.

“The arts change kids, the arts change lives,” McCoy said. “Part of our focus is not only to provide an excellent curriculum that’s bringing in those strong academic skills but to also provide exposure to the fine arts.”

One of those areas McCoy feels particularly strong about is photography and how it relates to teaching students about the world.

“We’re doing digital photography because I believe that our students need to learn to appreciate the environment in which we live and what better way to do that than to teach them how to capture that,” McCoy said. “We are heavy into fine arts. Yes, we have a heavy emphasis on academics and that will always be a front seat but they can be taught integratively and that’s what we’re going to do.”

During the meeting, the principals announced there are plans to field teams in 13 sports. Fall sports will include volleyball, cross country, cheerleading, football and swimming. Winter sports will be basketball and wrestling and spring sports will have track and field, golf, soccer, softball, baseball and tennis.

The schools will operate at self-contained portable buildings with the middle school south of the elementary building and the high school across the street on land that’s part of the city’s recreation center campus. The middle school will have eight classrooms and an office and the high school will have 10 classrooms and an office.

Next year the school will move to the sparkling new building from both schools under construction now on Canal Road. That campus will include a performing arts center paid for mostly by the city.

“A building doesn’t make a great school,” McCoy said. “It’s the people that make a difference in the school and the community. This building stands for so much more than just a school. It stands for a community.”