Fayette County


FCHS Principal sees bright future for county’s oldest school

Fayette County High School Principal Dan Lane has just begun his second year at the helm, and he says the future looks bright at the institution that used to be the only one in county.
As the county has grown and begun to look more and more like the rest of Metropolitan Atlanta, FCHS, which is located in the middle of Fayetteville, has experienced the most dramatic cultural shift of any high school in the county. A couple of decades ago, the school consisted of around 85 to 90-percent white students. These days, so-called “minorities” are in the majority at around 80 percent.
The transition, says Lane, has meant students, faculty and staff alike have had to learn to appreciate differences of culture, and he says that has become a great strength at FCHS.
“We have excellent students here,” Lane said. “I feel very blessed to be here.”
Lane says by the end of the 2013-14 school year, FCHS had about 1,200 students. As of Wednesday this week, that number was up to 1,289.
“There’s incredible potential here,” Lane said. “We are a high-achieving, excelling school.”
True enough, in all comparable areas of testing, FCHS exceeds state averages, and Lane says they’re just getting started with a sort of rebirth of the school’s Advanced Placement program.
Lane says evidence that students and their families are serious about excelling comes partly in the fact that the school’s extra-curricular activities are so well supported. He says the band, for example, is up to 280 members, which is proportionately larger than it was 20 years ago when the school had closer to 2,000 students. It means nearly a fourth of the students are involved in just that one extra-curricular.
Lane says those extra-curricular activities provide a backdrop for the school to teach what he calls a “covert curriculum.”
“You’ve got the overt curriculum and you’ve got the covert curriculum,” Lane said. “The overt curriculum is the math, the science, the social studies, et cetera. But there are other things students learn by engaging in school that we sometimes call the covert curriculum.”
Teamwork, responsibility, hard work, work ethic and cooperation are just a few things Lane says students can learn, and do learn at FCHS, while participating in extra-curriculars.
“They’re learning life skills they will take with them for the rest of their lives,” Lane said. “Whether they ever play football again, or whether they ever play baseball again, it doesn’t matter. They’ve learned those life skills.
“It’s part of educating the whole child,” Lane said. “Extra-curriculars do that very, very well.”
Lane himself is a product of an academic and extra-curricular balance. Brought up in LaGrange, he graduated from LaGrange High School in 1985. He was in the band.
“I’ve known about Fayette County High School a long time,” Lane said. “I remember going to dinner at Shannon Mall and then riding onward to Fayette County.
“I came up many times to Tiger Stadium,” he said.
After high school, Lane attended Auburn University where he graduated in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in Vocal Music. From there, he served one year as choral director at Vidalia Comprehensive High School before moving in 1990 to the brand-new Whitewater Middle School here in Fayette, where he was a music teacher and choral director for seven years.
When Starr’s Mill High School opened in 1997, Lane took up the challenge to again serve as a high school choral director. “I got to move with a lot of my students from Whitewater Middle,” he remembers. “We opened Starr’s Mill.”
Lane also remembers that opening Starr’s Mill High actually meant occupying the old FCHS campus in Fayetteville until the Starr’s Mill High building was complete, which took until February 1998.
“The students loved that building,” Lane said, adding that the students missed being able to walk outside from class to class once they were in the fully-enclosed Starr’s Mill building.
Lane spent another seven years as Starr’s Mill’s choral director and Fine Arts Department chairman before answering the call to serve at Providence United Methodist Church as music director for a year. “I helped them get their music program back on track,” Lane said.
Lane also said he learned a lot more about administration that year, and in 2005 he was ready to return to public education. As there were no suitable openings in the Fayette County system, he opted to join yet another brand-new school faculty, that of Sequoyah Middle School in Riverdale. He spent one year there.
Fayetteville Intermediate School was Lane’s next stop in 2006, and that’s when he also took advantage of an administration internship at McIntosh High School.
That internship put Lane in good stead to then become an assistant principal at McIntosh in 2007. He would serve there for six years before joining FCHS at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.
“It’s interesting being a music guy coming into administration,” Lane said. “It may not be a common track, but there are a lot of things we do in music that are very administrative: Managing large groups of people, running big projects, doing fund raising, managing a budget.
“Those kinds of experiences play very well into administration,” Lane said. “It prepared me well for this job.”
During an interview earlier this week, Lane shared that his administrative team looked at last year’s discipline reports and discovered that around 83 percent, or almost 1,000, of the school’s students didn’t have a single discipline report on file. However, in that other 17 percent they found around 1,500 discipline referrals, which is an average of just over seven per student in that category for the year.
“What we found is that punishment alone was not working for them,” Lane said.
And so things will be different this year.
Lane says they won’t be more flexible on the rules, but his faculty is now implementing what he calls the “Tiger Tokens” program. When teachers, administrators and staff see particularly commendable behavior, they reward students with Tiger Tokens. Those tokens can then be redeemed for prizes and privileges.
“We’re already seeing positive results this year,” Lane said. “Students are wanting us to see them doing well.”
One of the earned privileges is to have a locker on the coveted 2,000 Hall. Another is earning closer-in parking spaces for the older students.
Even more important than Tiger Tokens, however, is building relationships, says Lane.
“We are all about relationship building at this school,” Lane said. “Once you build good relationships with the students, they’ll do anything for you.”
Parental support, says Lane, is an overarching positive at FCHS, and he says the school is always looking for more ways to engage parents in their child’s educational experience.
“It’s important for the kids to see their parents involved,” Lane said. “Anything from checking over their child’s homework at night to volunteering here at the school.
“The parent is a child’s first and most important teacher,” Lane said.
While it may not be the most important addition to the school, Lane said he is also excited to see the new scoreboard going up across the street at Tiger Stadium. It was expected to be operation for last night’s home game against Starr’s Mill.

By Danny Harrison

Danny Harrison, a 1992 Fayette High School graduate, began his journalism career with Fayette County News in 1995. After taking several leaves of absence to pursue journalism and Christian ministry opportunities, including a few out of state and overseas, he returned full-time to Fayette County News in August 2014. Harrison earned a bachelor's degree in pastoral ministry in 2009 while serving as a missionary journalist in England and Western Europe.