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Hall school officials plan for future at retreat
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What is IE²?
Investing in Educational Excellence systems, also known as IE², establishes a contract with the state Department of Education. The five-year contract outlines a plan that frees the system from some state laws, allowing more local control and creativity.

What it means for Hall County Schools

  • More say in the spending of state funds
  • Looser class size requirements to allow for creative grouping of students
  • Flexibility in teacher certification requirements


Goals for Hall County Schools

  • Improve standardized test scores and high school graduation rates
  • Increase participation and performance in International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement programs
  • Push students’ writing, critical thinking, communication and technology skills above state standards

It’s planning time again.

Leaders from all Hall County Schools met at Flowery Branch this week for a retreat, and the themes ring clear — budget, technology and school improvement.

Budget problems were apparent at the outset, with no team-building activities or paddle boat races on the lake this year.

Superintendent Will Schofield opened the two-day meeting with projections for the school year and talked about how to “do more with less.”

“That’s kind of our theme right now,” said Eloise Barron, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. “We didn’t have any special activities because we didn’t have anyone to sponsor us. But we made it worthwhile by taking a close look at the year ahead.”

Barron then talked about updates announced to the school board last week — new expectations about using technology in the classroom and this year’s progress with the district’s balanced scorecard.

The central office developed a rubric for how teachers will use technology in the classroom, ranging from basic skills to full immersion in online lessons. Teachers will first evaluate themselves, and then principals will discuss where they land on the matrix.

“We’ll then pull together a profile to determine what the school looks like,” Barron said. “We’ll average the schools into a system picture, and all of this will show if we need more technology in the classroom, more professional learning and what else we need to do to make these folks move up the matrix.”

Improving technology is a part of the balanced scorecard goals set up by Hall County Schools to raise rigor and competency in the classroom. The schools are inching closer to goals set for standardized test scores and increased graduation rates and plan to keep pushing forward with a plan that was set aside last year — becoming an Investing in Education Excellence school system.

“We did a skit about all the different plans we’re responsible for incorporating into our IE2 plan: the school improvement plan, monitoring plan, safety plan, accreditation plan and others,” Barron said. “The IE2 plan is all of those pulled together into a system plan projected for the next five years.”

The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement asked school systems to determine before 2013 whether school systems want to be charter systems, status quo school systems or IE2, which is a hybrid of charter and regular models. From the beginning, Schofield has said the Hall system is too big to be a charter system and status quo is not an option.

Gwinnett County and Forsyth County are the only systems with the IE2 designation, and Hall County aims to be the third — and the first district to incorporate charter schools into the system.

“But along with higher expectations and flexibility, you get more accountability, and we’ll be holding our feet to the fire,” Barron said.

“Every year along the way, we’ve got to check off what we say we’ll do, and there are consequences from the state if you don’t meet those goals.”

The district started conversations with the state Department of Education last year about the IE2 designation and set up public hearings to gauge interest. The plan was pushed to the side, however, when the first public hearing fell on the same day in November as the announcement that high school schedules would move from four blocks to seven periods to maximize teaching resources. As teachers and parents expressed concerns, school officials decided to focus on budget issues.

“After that night, we really didn’t pursue another public hearing,” said Gerald Boyd, Hall County school improvement specialist who presided over the hearing. “Just like planning a charter school, you have to have public buy-in, and we wouldn’t intend to do anything they didn’t want us to do.”

At the retreat Wednesday, schools developed their improvement plans for the next year, incorporating the IE2 format as the system prepares to submit another system plan to the state.

Boyd said school officials will soon send another letter of intent to the state department to begin conversations again. They plan to set up public hearings in the fall and hope to become an IE2 system for fall 2011.