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Charter status lets school systems tailor plans to students needs
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The Gainesville school system will start the school year on Aug. 7 as one of four state-approved charter school districts in Georgia.

Merrianne Dyer, interim superintendent of Gainesville City Schools, said not a whole lot will change within the school district as a result of its new charter district status other than its "grass-roots" governance model, which will empower students, parents, teachers and principals with the flexibility to govern their own schools.

In May, the state Board of Education approved Warren County as the first charter system in Georgia. And in June, the state board approved the Gainesville City school district along with the Decatur and Marietta city districts.

Dyer said the Gainesville system was eager to be among the first charter school districts in the state, and worked hard and fast to meet the spring application deadline.

"I wish we could've had more time so people could fully understand what a charter school district is all about," she said.

A charter school system is one whose local board of education went through the rigorous process of applying to the state Board of Education to approve the system's proposed charter agreement with the state board.

According to the state Department of Education, a charter system provides the opportunity for teachers, administrators, parents and local school boards to have greater flexibility to determine the educational needs of students and requires some school-level governance in the system.

Dyer said academies are not mandated, but a charter system does allow schools to create them. She said Gainesville schools were already moving toward the charter school model with its various academies, so the governance system primarily will be the biggest change for city schools this fall.

"Truly we had already done what most charter schools do with theme (academies)," Dyer said. "What we're really putting in is the governance ... The Gainesville Model is the foundation, and we're moving up from that and putting the governance piece in."

Dyer said students, parents, teachers and community business partners will be asked to take several surveys throughout the school year to guide the goals of each schools' own leadership group, comprising teachers from each grade level and school leaders and principals. The school leadership group will meet to define the needs cited by those taking the surveys, and to define goals and develop research-based strategies to meet those needs.

The leadership group will communicate its defined goals and strategies to the governing council, which includes a principal, two teachers, four parents and one member from the business community, who Dyer said does not necessarily have to be a parent.

"We are supported by the revenue of businesses, and it's important for them to have a say in the schools' decision-making," Dyer said.

The school governing councils will analyze students' test results and determine which actions are needed based on research performed by the school leadership group. In turn, the school governing councils can make recommendations regarding personnel or educational programs to the system leadership team, made up by the system superintendent, principals and one parent from each school governing council and a local board of education representative.

Dyer said the system leadership team is the new key ingredient of the charter system governance process, and it will assess performance goals and the operational plans of academies. It provides recommendations to the superintendent, who works with the local board of education, the legal entity, to develop policies, rules and regulations for the district.

Dyer said the governance model will allow parents and educators to "design your school the way you want to."

"Each school will have the kind of activities parents want to have, and they're not going to be the same at each school," she said. "The key is you're not making people do things, they're deciding to do them and that's really important with students, ‘cause nobody likes to be told what they do all the time."

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