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Jefferson schools consider becoming a charter system
Jefferson High School juniors Matthew Tillman, left, 16, Peter Ly, center, 17, and Darius Minor, 17, determine substances based on their density Tuesday in an environmental science class. Officials with the Jefferson City School System are thinking about switching to charter system status. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The Jefferson City School System is thinking about leaving tradition behind and joining a growing group of charter school systems.

"We are still in the very early stages of exploring that possibility," said Sherrie Gibney-Sherman, who is the system’s associate superintendent for instructional services. "Our board went to a Georgia School Board Association conference and attended a workshop about charter systems and asked me to follow up on it."

One of the presenters during the workshop was the superintendent of the Warren County School System. Warren County was the first Georgia system to receive approval from the Georgia Board of Education to pursue its plans for becoming a charter system.

"Warren County has some of the same characteristics of Jefferson and we think that is a very good system for us to look at as we consider pursuing charter system status," Gibney-Sherman said. "They have agreed to host a group from Jefferson to discuss how the transition to a charter system impacted them."

A charter system is a local school district that operates under the conditions of a state-approved charter.

The Georgia Board of Education approved Warren County’s charter system application last May. The Gainesville City School System received charter system status the following month.

While the Hall County School System is considered to be a traditional school district, it has several individual charter schools within the system.

According to the state department of education, the Charter Systems Act was passed in 2007 bringing with it "the benefits of chartering to entire school systems rather than individual schools, provided such districts implement local school governance."

While the process to become a charter system can be time-consuming, Gibney-Sherman says the efforts are worth the extra work.

"Being a charter system gives (local districts) more leeway in determining how to get from point A to point B," she said. "For instance, instead of the state dictating how we identify students for the Early Intervention Program, we would have the opportunity to decide the best method for our school system. "Besides being given more flexibility in making decisions, charter system status also brings additional state funding to approved school systems.

In a letter to parents, Warren County Superintendent of Schools Carole Jean Carey said that some of their additional funds were spent on new graphing calculators, computer software and additional supplies for each classroom.

If Jefferson chooses to pursue charter system status, officials must submit a letter of intent to the state Department of Education by May, which must then be followed up with a completed application in November.