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Hall leads country with fastest-growing charter system
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The Hall County School District is the fastest-growing in the country for public charter school students.

“I think it says what we’ve been saying for a decade,” Hall Superintendent Will Schofield said about the numbers. “This board of education has been committed to the fact that we’ve got to be willing to do some things differently in the year 2013. And I think we are.

“We’ve got a lot to learn,” he added. “We can always find improvement, but you’ve got to be willing to do some things differently in this world that’s changing so rapidly.”

The information was released Tuesday in “A Growing Movement: America’s Largest Charter School Communities,” an annual report published by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

From the 2011-12 school year to the 2012-13 year, Hall County grew 58 percent in charter enrollment, making it the No. 1 district for growth in the country. It came ahead of the San Diego Unified School District in California and Duval County Public Schools in Florida.

“The latest data on public charter school enrollment demonstrate once again that public charter schools are the fastest-growing sector of public education in the United States,” the report reads.

“Over the past five years, student enrollment in public charter schools has grown by 80 percent.”

The alliance defines public charter schools as “independent public schools allowed freedom to be more innovative, while being held accountable for improved student achievement.”

Public charter schools are tuition-free and are held accountable to state and federal academic standards.

“By definition, (charter schools are) supposed to be local communities (and) local teachers designing their dream schools,” Schofield said.

Flowery Branch High School converted to charter status last year. Principal Jason Carter said the focus of the school is to prepare students for leadership in an increasingly global workplace.

“We say all the time, our students are our future,” Carter said. “We’re trying to really home in on that.”

According to the report, 8,633 students were enrolled in the county’s charter programs for the 2012-13 school year.

It comes out to 32 percent of the district’s student population, making Hall No. 6 in the country for districts with a high percentage of charter students.

“I think parents like it because there’s an opportunity there,” Carter said.

“If they see that their kid has an interest, whether it’s in music or inquiry or multiple languages, there are some options that you have in Hall County that you’re not going to see (elsewhere). I think that kind of opens things up for our community, and I think that’s why it is growing.”

Atlanta Public Schools and Fulton County Schools were on the list for having 10 percent of their student population in the charter system; they tied at No. 25 with 19 other school districts across the country.

Hall County is No. 36 in the nation out of the top 50 school districts, per number of students. Also from Georgia, Fulton County Schools is No. 29 on that list with 9,731 total students. The DeKalb County School System is No. 44 with 7,135.

Schofield said he thinks the future will see an expansion of programs of choice, which operate much like charter schools but are special programs inside each school, like the Earhart-Edison Exploration Academy at North Hall Middle School or the Family Wellness Program at Friendship Elementary.

“Over the last 10, 15 years, there’s become an awful lot of paperwork and bureaucracy tied to charters,” Schofield said.

“The whole idea of a charter was supposed to be less bureaucracy, less paperwork. One thing I can guarantee is that this district will continue to move forward with additional programs of choice. Whether or not those will be charter schools, I don’t think we know yet.”