Ronald "Tracy" Trussell has opened a few schools in his 27 years as an educator. But standing in the nearly-complete Birmingham Falls Elementary, he proclaims this one to be nearly perfect.
"I've been a part of five new school openings, and I can say without a doubt that this is the best school construction I have ever seen," said Trussell, who officially opens the school to new students Aug. 10. "The [construction firm] was out here every day making sure everything was right. And I was right there with them."
From the tile work, to the painting, to the horse trail (the only school in Fulton County to boast such an asset), Trussell has been amazed at the professionalism from the contractors, Evergreen Construction.
"The attention to detail down to the smallest items has been amazing," he said.
Trussell especially loves the heating and cooling system that provides individual controls for each classroom and actually filters the air as it is circulated. He predicts that system alone will keep kids healthier with fewer allergy and asthma issues.
Not that everything has gone as smoothly as the construction. Trussell was still waiting for his school-issued computer in mid-July, relying on his assistant's machine – brought in from her home – to stay in e-mail contact. And the first Open House date had to be pushed back a few weeks when certain city requirements weren't complete.
But standing in the hallways, with staff and contractors putting the finishing touches in place for the July 26 opening, Trussell is envisioning a vibrant school filled with students.
The school is a courtyard design — one of two prototypes typically used for elementary school construction in Fulton County — and has the capacity for up to 850 students.
It will open just 100 students under capacity and is expected fill in a few short years as Milton continues to grow.
Birmingham Falls sits on about 20 acres off Birmingham Highway near White Columns subdivision and is the northernmost school in Fulton County. Its 54 classrooms cost about $20 million to build – which includes the land purchase of $2.7 million. The school was funded through the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), a one-percent tax in Fulton County for education.
Birmingham Falls' main building will be a familiar one for students. The elementary school they all came from – Summit Hill – is the identical floor plan. But that's where Trussell hopes the comparisons will end.
"I'm looking forward to building a unique identity for Birmingham Falls," noted Trussell, who promises to incorporate a waterfall onto the campus at some point to reflect the name of the school. "This will not be Summit Hill – Part 2, but a school with its own traditions and its own way of doing things."
With every student feeding in from Summit Hill and steeped in the traditions of that school, he recognizes it might be a bit of a battle to chart his own course, but he's up for the challenge. Already the school's PTA is active and the school foundation – started nearly the day Trussell was named principal – has been busy raising funds and establishing business connections.
Parents involved in the PTA will be tasked to take an active part in the classroom, with Trussell urging members to focus on the kids, not the cash.
"It's something I do that may be different from other principals," said the previous principal of Creekview Elementary in Alpharetta. "I have charged the PTA to be instructionally focused in the classrooms ... assisting with small groups, tutoring, running the science lab and computer lab."
Fundraising – which is the main focus for most school PTAs – will be left to the school's foundation, noted Trussell.
"I have two outstanding organizations already in place and both groups are going gung-ho," he said. "I feel very fortunate to be a part of this North Fulton community ... the support is amazing."
Since being named principal at Birmingham Falls last December, Trussell has held several community meetings to meet the parents and students. In addition, he gave "homework assignments" to each new student this summer to send him photos of themselves and their families, along with answers to 10 questions. The photos were on display at Birmingham Falls during the Open House on July 26; the answers to the questions will help him get to know students before school even starts.