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Gainesville schools seek charter status

POSTED: December 29, 2007 5:02 a.m.

GAINESVILLE — Gainesville city schools is one of several school districts statewide so far that is pursuing a status that would give them more freedom to reform without stiff state regulations.

Charter status also would mean validation of changes already made, including giving parents the choice of elementary, middle school and high school "academies" built on a specific style of instruction.

"We want flexibility at the local level for teachers and principals who have created from the ground up academies of choice," said David Shumake, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, at Monday night’s Gainesville City Board of Education meeting.

Shumake gave the board an update on the system’s efforts to pursue the status, made possible by a law passed earlier this year.

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a Chestnut Mountain Republican, pushed for the changes, which also would give districts more freedom to choose how they meet federal No Child Left Behind standards.

Gainesville also has gotten state and national attention for its "Gainesville Model," a system of accountability that involves testing children’s mastery of state curriculum standards.

"We’re very proud of what our teachers and administrators have created," Shumake said.

Shumake talked about the city system’s petition, which must by filed by the Jan. 15 deadline, in a public hearing before the school board meeting. Another hearing is set for 6:30 p.m. Jan. 7 at the district’s main office at 508 Oak St.

The school system also has set up a "frequently asked questions" section about charter system status in English and Spanish on its Web site, www.gcssk12.net.

An example of how charter status would bring relief to the system is that it may enable the district to waive the annually given Iowa Tests of Basic Skills "to spend more time on instructional programs and analysis of our pre- and post-tests," the Web site states.

The ITBS is a test that compares a student’s performance in certain subject areas to that of a national sample of students.

The district’s petition requires school board approval before it can be submitted, Shumake said.

"I don’t see a downside to a charter (system)," said board member Frank Harben, who, along with Chairwoman Lee Highsmith, is leaving the board Dec. 31. "This is the purest form of government."

Kelvin Simmons lauded the programs of choice, saying that they have "kept this community together."

The district was gearing up to draw attendance lines with the creation of Gainesville Exploration and New Holland Core Knowledge academies when the system instead adopted the program of allowing families to choose which school they wanted their children to attend.

Shumake said the state Board of Education could approve the charter systems at its meeting in April.

If approved for Gainesville, he said he didn’t expect people would see much change.

Programs of choice, athletic classification and salary scales wouldn’t be affected, among other things.

"Charter status will allow for exploring other ways to organize benefits and salaries," the system’s Web site states.



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