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Jefferson schools discuss applying for charter status
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To transition or not to transition to a charter system — that is the question on the minds of members of the Jefferson City Schools Board of Education and system staff.

During the final day of the system’s annual school board retreat Saturday, the group spent time weighing the pros and cons of possibly adopting the charter schools model.

"We went to each school and spoke with each grade level and told the teachers that we are considering going to a charter system," said Sherrie Gibney-Sherman, school system associate superintendent.

"We received lots of feedback, but there were several issues that we heard over and over again."

Among the issues teachers would like to see addressed if a switch is made is adding programs to meet needs of average-ability students, methods for increasing parental involvement and how to boost student achievement from "meets" to "exceeds" on state-mandated assessments.

In addition to considering to a charter system, the group also discussed the merits of switching to the Investing in Educational Excellence model.

"The main differences are that the (Investing in Educational Excellence model) calls for a contract initiated by the local board of education with the Georgia Department of Education under the supervision of the Governor’s Office of Educational Accountability and a five-year commitment," said Pat Stokes, a former school system superintendent who conducted a workshop for the board concerning the two strategies.

"The charter system is one in which the schools, under the leadership of the local board of education, design plans for academic achievement, governance and accountability that are approved (by the state board of education). The only oversight is by the local board of education with annual reports to the state."

In the Educational Excellence model, systems contract with the state department of education and outline certain goals toward meeting or exceeding No Child Left Behind and state standards. If it fails to meet those goals fewer than three times during the five-year period, the local board would lose control of the school system, which could then be governed by the state, another successful school system or a private entity.

During the discussion, school officials pointed out that one of the problems with the model is that systems become afraid of striving for excellence for fear of hitting the mark.

Because there isn’t a contract involved with the charter system, there aren’t specific consequences for systems that fail to meet their goals. However, if a system continuously fails to do so, its charter application may not be renewed, and it may be forced into a contract to follow the educational excellence model or the "status quo" option.

"With the ‘status quo,’ school systems will remain as they are currently organized, but they are subject to all laws, rules, regulations, policies and procedures (from the state and federal government) — all waivers are off," Stokes said.

According to Stokes, all school systems will have to either choose one of the models — status quo, educational excellence or charter — by June 30, 2013.

"At some point in time, we will have to make some decision, so I would like for us to move forward now and decide which way we want to go," board Chairman Ronnie Hopkins said. "The way the status quo law is written, it’s almost like the legislature is trying to encourage you not to go there."

If the board plans to move toward charter status next fall, officials must submit a letter of intent to the department of education by May 1. The letter doesn’t require the system to seek the charter process, but it is required in case they choose that option.

The school board is expected to take action on whether to move forward with the letter of intent during its next meeting April 9.

Should the school board decide to pursue charter status, the application must be submitted by November.