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Hall seeks flexibility in state school standards
County in transitional year before becoming waiver system
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See the annual Back to School section in Sunday's print editions of The Times.

As class resumes in Hall County next week, school leaders are seeking more flexibility from state rules.

Schools would have to meet specific performance targets, which the district will set in its new contract with the state department, according to Kevin Bales, Hall’s director of middle and secondary education.

Bales said high-performing schools could have flexibility of class size, more say in school funding and spending decisions and waivers from some teacher certification requirements.

Currently, such decisions are made entirely at the district level. But becoming a Strategic Waivers School System, previously called Investing in Educational Excellence School Systems or IE2, would allow increased flexibility from state rules in return for increased student achievement.

Performance targets would be measured by the College and Career Ready Performance Index, which rates schools on a 100-point scale. Last year, Hall’s highest-ranked schools were C.W. Davis Middle School, North Hall High School, Friendship Elementary School and World Language Academy Middle School.

North Hall High School Principal Jamey Moore said the district is still identifying which areas of flexibility specifically will help schools and students, but he hopes the school will be able to use the flexibility “to see every student succeed.”

The district submitted a letter of intent to the state department in April with its plans to construct a contract. It has created a timeline including public hearings. Bales said the district plans to submit the completed contract in April of next year.

“Until the district submits the SWSS contract, we will be in a transition period,” he said.

Matt Cardoza, communications director for the Georgia Department of Education, said the state department is “working with Hall to develop the contract.”

Hall will not be the first county in the state to use this model. Twelve other counties already have approved contracts, including Cobb, Forsyth, Gwinnett, Jefferson and Rabun.

Gwinnett and Forsyth have had contracts since 2009 for IE2 districts. Both school systems had high index scores in 2014. Forsyth’s was 90.1 and Gwinnett’s was 82.1. Hall’s was 73.6.

Until Hall’s contract is approved, however, Bales said the district is communicating with its school administrators to prepare them for the changes.

“We did have an administrative leadership retreat and Kevin did share this with us,” said Davis Middle Principal Eddie Millwood. “We went over it, but understand it’s an ongoing process at this point.”

The district continues, for the time being, to have charter schools, magnet schools, community schools and competitive programs of choice, though charter schools may transition to the designation of magnet schools when the new contract goes into effect.

“The district has provided information to each of our school’s administrative leadership teams regarding SWSS, the flexibility it provides, possible consequences for not meeting goals and the district’s timeline,” Bales said.

Consequences would begin with increased monitoring by the district, and failure to meet subsequent goals would require the district to actively participate in a school improvement plan. The most extreme consequence would mean involvement from the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement.

Millwood said he doesn’t yet know what waivers schools may have, but his school will strive for these goals the same way it has for years.

“The process itself I don’t see changing a lot, because we do a lot of monitoring,” he said. “We do a lot of things that include looking at student data and looking at growth. So I don’t see our process at the school-level changing a lot because we’ve been focused on these things for a long time, which has led to the CCRPI results and other successes as well.”

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