Will DeKalb County become a public charter school system? School officials are pondering the idea and want feedback from the public to approach state officials about making the idea a reality.
The school district would become the largest charter school system in the sate, if the district’s petition is approved by the Georgia Department of Education.
“We want to get the public’s input on how we can make the petition for charter schools suitable for all parties involved—school staff members, parents, and of course, our students,” said DeKalb Schools Superintendent Michael Thurmond. “I think this concept is innovative and I know it will have tremendous potential for our students and their development.”
District officials are seeking input from the community on the flexibility that the potential system would bring to improve academic learning in schools. After receiving public input, school officials must craft and complete the petition for state review by June 30, 2015.
Former School Board member Jesse Cunningham says the flexibility can lead to innovations in teaching students and governing schools.
“The new system would be a good thing. If DeKalb goes to the charter system, schools would have more latitude on rules governing them. Schools could have their own committees comprised of principals and who the principals elect to make decision for the schools in their cluster,” said Cunningham. “For example, if MLK High saw a need for Saturday school, they would go to their principal and get it approved. It wouldn’t have to be approved by the state (Department of Education).”
In 2013, the DeKalb School Board rejected a group of parents and educators who were seeking approval and funding for a “charter cluster” for Druid Hills High School and six feeder schools in North DeKalb. The board rejected the idea, saying that the cluster would drain money and resources from the district and could prevent some students who live in the community from attending based on criteria set up by cluster organizers.
The DeKalb Schools District has set up five community engagement sessions, and anyone seeking to provide input is invited to attend, including parents, teachers and others in the community.
In the past, the charter cluster concept has been greeted with enthusiasm in North DeKalb, where there is a history of frustration with the management of the DeKalb Schools District. But it has created suspicion in South DeKalb, where graduation rates are lower.
John Evans, president of the DeKalb branch of the NAACP, says he wouldn’t mind supporting a charter school system, as long as the charter system is truly a fair system for all DeKalb students.
“We need to come out to the meetings in numbers to get the fine print on where the funding is coming from for this new system, what this really means and how will everyone benefit. Core curriculum and everything else has to be fair across the board,” said Evans. “There’s always a hook and before I offer support I want to make sure there are no hooks in this system. We have to make sure the whole plan is fair for all of the students.”
The Georgia charter schools law provides the means to organize a charter public school subject to an academic or vocational performance-based contract approved by both the state and local boards of education.
A group of people (educators, parents, community leaders, or others) writes the charter plan (i.e. charter contract) describing the school guiding principles, governance structure, and applicable accountability measures.
Specific goals and operating procedures for the charter school are detailed in an agreement (or "charter") between the school system, state Department of Education and charter organizers. The charter contract often exempts the school from agreed upon state and local rules, regulations, policies, and procedures and from certain provisions of Georgia law.
DeKalb Region 3 Superintendent Trenton Arnold has been tasked with putting the petition together to approach the state Board of Education. He says he is encouraging the public to get the latest on information regarding the proposed system before coming to the meetings.
“We hope parents and even students will have the chance to look over information that’s already out there concerning charter systems and review some of the petitions from other school systems around the state that are already operating as a charter district,” said Arnold. “A list of innovations, state waivers, higher academic expectations. Decisions such as financial, instruction, resource allocation and curriculum would now be decided on the school level and what benefits each school will shine through and lead to improvement in student learning.”
The five public meetings will occur at 6 p.m. as follows:
Region IV Lithonia High School, Aug. 26
Region II, Lakeside High School on Aug. 27
Region I, Dunwoody High School Aug. 28
Region V Towers High School, Sept. 2
Region III, Stephenson High School, Sept. 3.
For more information, visit http://www.gadoe.org/External-Affairs-and-Policy/Charter-Schools/Pages/default.aspx or call 678-676-1200.