Parents, teachers and community stakeholders came together on Aug. 26 in Lithonia to hear the latest updates on the DeKalb County School District’s petition for a public charter school system. If the county is successful in getting approval from the Georgia Department of Education, DeKalb’s 100,000 students would comprise the largest public charter school system in the state.
“The last thing we want to do is set up a definite plan saying this is what DeKalb County wants without actually seeing what the parents of this county want,” said DeKalb Region 3 Superintendent Trenton Arnold, who has been tasked with organizing the petition for the charter schools.
The meeting at Lithonia High School was the first in a series of public hearings planned countywide to give parents and others a chance to meet with DeKalb Schools’ officials, ask questions and share ideas. About 60 people attended.
Arnold said community feedback will be presented to the DeKalb Board of Education on Oct. 6. He said the board could vote on pursuing the charter school system idea at that time or make suggestions of its own to the district’s petition.
Some parents at the Lithonia meeting said it’s too early for them to determine whether they support the district-wide charter school idea.
“I’m not going to say charter schools are good or that they are bad because I believe that different systems work better for different communities. However, every since this idea was first presented, a lot of questions were never answered,” said Faith Britton, who has three children in the Redan High School—Marbut Theme school area. “We don’t understand where the funding would come from for South DeKalb. I believe the charter system will start at certain schools, not all of them. Who will be first? We are concerned and unclear on what charter really means for us. We need to know what is next, not just a lot of meetings where we come and share ideas and opinions.”
Quinn Hudson, DeKalb Schools Communications Officer, says that school officials must first gather community input before they can answer those kinds of questions. After receiving public input, school officials must craft and complete the petition for state review by June 30, 2015.
Freedom Middle School sixth-grade special education teacher Arthur Lindsay supports the idea of a public charter system and says it would bring a prime opportunity for students to learn more cultures.
“A charter school system could open up a whole new world for these kids when you’re talking about curriculum. We could broadened their views on cultures and show them the world that existed long before European rule,” said Lindsay. “A lot of these kids don’t pay attention in class because they don’t see how it relates to them.”
DeKalb Schools Superintendent Michael Thurmond, who was not present at the first public hearing, released a statement.
“We hope that parents and all interested parties will do their best to come out to these hearings because we want everyone’s feedback to be included when we make this decision—parents, school staff members and our students,” said Thurmond. “This concept could serve to be very innovative for the county in terms of how students learn and develop.”
Lance Hammonds, first vice president and head of the DeKalb NAACP’s Education Committee, says he believes it is important to make sure that changing to a charter school district is going to improve academics.
“If we are named charter schools, won’t we still have the same teachers? The same students? The same problems? What will be the deciding factors that will bring improvement for this school system?” said Hammonds. “Before we say yes to this, we need to make sure that the new system means core curriculum fairness and overall fairness for all DeKalb students to excel.”
Arnold said there are several advantages of the charter school system such as freedom of schools to make personal decisions for the operation of their school programs and the freedom to hire specialty teachers. A group of people (educators, parents, community leaders, or others) writes the charter plan describing the school guiding principles, governance structure and applicable accountability measures.
Specific goals and operating procedures for each 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.
The school system is hosting public hearings on Tuesday, Sept. 2, at Towers High School and on Wednesday, Sept. 3, at Stephenson High School. The meetings are at 6 p.m.
For more information, visit http://www.gadoe.org/External-Affairs-and-Policy/Charter-Schools/Pages/default.aspx or call 678-676-1200.