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More learning choices available in Gainesville, Hall

Schools open for applications; most students stay close to home

POSTED: January 4, 2014 12:28 a.m.

A new year brings new opportunities for parents of rising ninth-graders to choose from a variety of programs for their children.

The application process is open for programs of choice among Hall County high schools through the end of the month.

The Hall County School District offers both charter schools and programs of choice at a variety of levels; there are two charters and six programs of choice at the high school level.

Charter schools are their own separate entities. Students can apply to them via a lottery system if they have their own attendance zone, like Flowery Branch. Programs of choice are attached to a school, like the Earhart-Edison Exploration Academy at North Hall Middle School and the Innovation Institute at West Hall High School. They require a more competitive application process, which includes test scores, teacher recommendations and student essays.

Laurie Ecke, assistant to the director of innovative and advanced programs, said the top three that garner the most interest are the Da Vinci Academy at South Hall Middle School, World Language Academy and Lanier Charter Career Academy at The Oaks.

For the 2014-15 school year, 175 rising sixth-graders applied for Da Vinci Academy while only able to accept around 90.

“World Language Academy and Lanier Charter Career Academy are both charter schools,” Ecke said. “But they do not have their own attendance zone, so in that sense a lot of people apply to those schools because that’s the only way you can go.”

In comparison, charter schools like Flowery Branch High School Global Studies and Leadership Academy and Chestatee Academy of Inquiry and Talent Development have their own attendance zones, meaning some students are automatically enrolled in those schools based on their proximity. Students applying for those schools do so through a lottery process.

Programs of choice require competitive applications, including student essays and grades.

“It’s really providing options for those students who are going to be a really good fit for a certain program,” Ecke said. “That’s really what it seems to be doing rather than creating an atmosphere where everybody’s choosing a whole lot of different options. It’s creating a place for those 10 or 20 students who might be zoned for a particular school but they happen to be a perfect fit for a program of choice in another part of the county.”

It’s the same story at Gainesville City Schools, where open enrollment for the elementary school programs begins Monday.

“Some people select the school due to location close to home or their workplace,” Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said. “Others select it because they like the style of the leadership at the school.”

She said all Gainesville schools offer something a little different. For example, Fair Street School offers a bilingual, hands-on learning environment while Gainesville Exploration Academy classes are more focused on math and science.

“Although we predicted when we started (in 2003) that we might have to put controls on the choice, we have been able to honor the choice of all parents as long as they enroll in the window,” Dyer said.

While not all applications will be accepted to in-demand programs of choice in Hall County, student demand usually is evenly balanced. According to Ecke, the majority of Hall County students choose to remain close to home.

“Although there are people who apply to those schools ... I think the vast majority of students and families are staying at their own schools,” she said. She used Sugar Hill Elementary School as an example; it’s not a charter school, but was recently honored as a National Blue Ribbon School, the first in Hall County named to the national list.

“What seems to be happening is because there are other options and programs, the individual schools are developing their own so that their students who go there have wonderful options,” she said. “I think it’s interesting that Sugar Hill Elementary was just honored ... they’re not a charter school or a program of choice, so that’s a great example of how our schools that are traditional schools for their attendance zones are doing great things.”


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