By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Hall has one of highest percentages of charter schools in country
Placeholder Image

Hall County School District is a national leader in charter schools’ growth, but the future of charter schools in the area remains unclear.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recently ranked Hall County sixth in the nation for percentage of charter schools per district.

Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said there is good and bad news when it comes to charter schools in Hall County. The good news is the trends show exactly what district officials predicted when they began charter schools in the region nine years ago.

“This fits right in with what we believed ... which was that charter schools provide a great opportunity for school improvement, to re-energize our communities to get more involved in the schooling process and to give our children an opportunity to become a part of schools and the learning process in a way that they can be more engaged with,” he said.

However, legislative changes in more recent years have put the county in “an unfortunate situation,” according to Schofield.

“With some of the choices we’re going to be forced to make as we go forward in terms of the flexibility requirements by June 2015, there’s probably a real strong chance that we will not have many charter schools in the Hall County School District as we move forward,” Schofield said.

The county charter schools have “conversion charters,” or schools brought forward by the local community and Board of Education to the state with the request to convert into a charter school.

Under the legislation, each charter school would have to be granted autonomy and function under the control of a local governance board specific to the school.

“That’s not the way we wrote any of our charters,” Schofield said. “We are a district first. We give our charter schools and schools of choice tremendous autonomy in terms of how they deliver instruction, what the education program looks like.”

In October, Louise Erste, associate superintendent for the state Education Department, spoke to the Board of Education about the possibility of becoming a charter system.

“You don’t want to do a charter system if you have no desire to have that local governance and if you don’t want to flip your system around,” Erste said.

The system wants to remain one district, Schofield said, for the sake of fairness. Officials did not want teachers at charter schools to be paid on a different rate than teachers at noncharter public schools, and they didn’t want resources distributed unevenly.

“The requirement to have this third-party form, which takes over those key operations, is something we’ve always believed is very problematic,” he said.

Currently, the district has 11 charter schools and 12 programs of choice. Several of the charter schools could lose their charter next year and become programs of choice if the system can’t find a solution.

In 2013-2014, Hall County Schools had 32 percent, or 8,733 students, enrolled in its charter schools, the sixth-highest percentage in the nation. However, the year before, Hall County was the fastest-growing district in the nation, and it fell out of the top five in 2013.

Schofield said nearly a third of the conversion charter schools in the entire state are in Hall County.

“It doesn’t seem right that a district that has been one of the leaders in the charter school movement has its conversion charter schools being held to a much different standard than maybe some of the charter systems or districts that have come in after the fact.”