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Guest column: Fulfilling the promise of charter school systems
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Why would a school system seek to become "chartered"? The answer lies in the vision a school system has for the community it serves.

A charter is, in essence, a business plan that describes how schools can use innovation and creativity to motivate and inspire students to apply and demonstrate knowledge. Too often schools become stuck in being "good, average schools." Meeting Adequate Yearly Progress has become a central focus for public schools during the "No Child Left Behind" era.

One cannot question the importance of providing equal educational opportunities for all children and holding educators accountable for learning. However, considerable concern should arise when schools begin to accept "adequate" as the ultimate goal. By moving toward charter system status, Gainesville City Schools has decided to not accept being adequate, but to work toward being remarkable.

The governance structure of the charter school and system is the heart of creating custom-designed schools. Each school within the system works as a charter school with an elected group composed of parents, community and faculty making decisions about how to best implement curriculum, plan parent programs and extracurricular events of the school.

Using input from surveys and school parent groups, the school governing councils and system governing councils make recommendations for each individual school to the superintendent and the Board of Education. This includes the selection of school-level administrators.

On the classroom level, the practice of traditional facts-based learning using textbooks and worksheets is being replaced by specialty programs designed to meet the interests, needs and backgrounds of the students.

Each elementary school offers an academy program focused on authentic and interactive learning from which parents can choose. Instead of learning facts alone, the programs integrate problem-based learning, thematic instruction, interdisciplinary studies and opportunities for children to demonstrate new knowledge through action or service.

Middle school academy programs are offered to support students in smaller learning groups, promote engaged, active learning, and the formation of personal adult relationships. Middle school students are offered Advanced Studies with opportunities to earn Carnegie credits toward high school graduation.

Four specialized high school academy programs offer students theme-based approaches, smaller learning groups, career preparation, internships and preparation for entrepreneurial enterprises, along with Advanced Placement coursework. With increased offerings of Advanced Placement classes and Carnegie credits in middle school, more students are participating in dual-enrollment with area colleges and technical schools.

Each academy program, from elementary through high school, emphasizes the importance of integrating the arts and technology. An emphasis on learning world languages is offered, particularly with the International Baccalaureate in elementary school and in offering multiple world languages, including Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, in both middle and high school.

Through the charter system, Gainesville City Schools has committed to not only leaving no child behind, but in pushing each child ahead in advanced, rigorous and meaningful studies.

Merrianne Dyer is Interim Superintendent of Gainesville City Schools.

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