ATLANTIC CITY — Principal LaQuetta Small walked through the hallways of Atlantic City High School on Wednesday and as she passed the students, she said hello, and then, “Viking Pride,” pausing for response.

“Viking strong,” the students replied as they continued to class.

That school mantra is now emblazoned across the new terrazzo flooring that welcomes students and faculty into the building each day, part of a series of upgrades at the school to increase student retention and recruitment by promoting a positive learning environment.

“They love it. They’re excited,” Small said of her charges’ reaction to the renovations. “I can just feel the energy, the school pride.”

The $1.25 million flooring project began last winter was completed earlier this year. In addition, the district made a $349,000 upgrade to the high school’s television studio, invested $1.9 million into renovating the bathrooms throughout the district, and made security upgrades to the high school and two elementary schools at a cost of $158,000.

“We want to be able to compete and the school is 25 years old, so it’s important that we upgrade,” Small said.

The “new” Atlantic City High School opened on Nov. 14, 1994. The district high school serves students from Longport, Margate, Ventnor, Atlantic City and Brigantine, but loses many students to private schools, school choice programs and the Atlantic City Institute of Technology.

The renovations were part of the superintendent’s goals to address recruitment and retention. According to the district’s budget presentation in 2018, the district was looking to “promote positive programming by investing in courses that will attract and retain current and prospective students” such as a 21st century television studio, renovating the high school, and using the new TV station to promote ACHS.

Television production teacher Gregory Toland happily showed off his new equipment inside the control room and studio.

“It’s incredible,” the ACHS alumnus said.

Toland, who had a successful career as a broadcast sports anchor in Washington, D.C. before returning home and becoming a teacher, said his students now have the capability to learn in a setting that rival professional studios.

“Before, we didn’t really have a studio,” said student Brinaiya Kelsey, 15.

She said Toland had explained to the students what the renovations would entail, but that was an understatement. “It looks way better than what he was talking about,” Kelsey said.

As she toured through the remainder of the school: the dance studio which received new mirrors, the gym floor that was updated last year, Small said that she could see a difference in the staff and the students.

“Climate and culture makes a difference,” Small said. “When people are happy, they’re productive.”

The renovations did not come without controversy, as several teachers voiced concerns over the flooring replacement and possibly silica dust contamination. Atlantic City School officials maintained that they followed proper safety protocols, installing temporary barriers during the construction after the dust was discovered.

“I want to thank everyone for bearing the construction and working through the difficult times,” said Superintendent Barry Caldwell. “It’s really important to understand, this is a project that was needed.”

GALLERY: Atlantic City High School first day of school

Contact: 609-272-7251

CLowe@pressofac.com Twitter @clairelowe

Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.

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