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Gainesville to submit charter system application to state
System in one of six in state to pursue charter status
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Listen as City Board of Education member Sammy Smith talks about national testing. Board member David Syfan follows up with a comment.
GAINESVILLE — The Gainesville school system is vying to become one of the state’s first charter school systems.

At its annual retreat Saturday, the City Board of Education voted to submit its application to the Georgia Department of Education.

The board has until Tuesday to file the application, which, school officials say, could be voted on by the state Board of Education this spring.

The system is one of six statewide so far that is pursuing the five-year charter system status, which would give them more freedom to reform without stiff state regulations.

Gainesville school officials have said they already have their innovation in place — giving parents the choice of elementary, middle school and high school "academies" built on a specific style of instruction — and now it’s time to cash in.

Charter system status could result in $725,000 in money from the state, plus the opportunity for future grants that are tied to a school or school system having charter status.

While the application is in the state’s hands, "we’ll continue to look at (it) as a living, breathing document," said Steven Ballowe, Gainesville’s superintendent.

School officials are planning a public hearing on the application for 6:30-7 p.m. at the board’s business meetings for the next four months, usually the third Monday of the month. The meetings ordinarily begin at 7 p.m.

The board decided to eliminate in the application any reference of students taking the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, with members saying they would revisit the issue and determine how to handle it.

The school system says on a "frequently asked questions" page on its Web site that the district could waive the testing, which is designed to show how students fare when compared to a national sample of students, "to spend more time on instructional programs and analysis of our pre- and post-tests."

"There are some parents who would like their child to be tested," said board member Sammy Smith, who raised the issue.

The board also decided to set as a goal designating 90 percent of charter system funding for classroom instruction.

In other business at the retreat, after a debate on who should serve as chairperson, the board voted 3-2 to rotate the role on a monthly basis, going in order of who has the most board experience.

Board members Kelvin Simmons, Willie Mitchell and Maria Calkins voted for the rotation. David Syfan and Smith voted against it.

The board then agreed to talk later in the year about how the rotation worked.

"You ought to chronicle this as an innovation in board leadership," said Cheryl Sullivan, the board’s consultant, who helped guide the meeting.