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New school raises plans for old
World Languages Academy gains support; goes to state school board
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CHESTNUT MOUNTAIN — Parents and teachers have given overwhelming support for a proposed new World Languages Academy in South Hall.

Now the matter goes before the Georgia Board of Education.

The Hall County school system received 58 yes votes and three no votes after a two-hour meeting with parents at Chestnut Mountain Elementary School, where the new school would be based starting in the fall of 2008.

In a session with teachers earlier, the proposal received 42 yes votes and one no vote.

About 75 people sat for the public hearing in Chestnut Mountain’s gym, with school administrators giving a brief overview of the academy and then fielding questions from the audience.

Officials talked about how the academy would feature a "dual-language immersion program" for kindergarten through second grade and foreign language instruction, including Mandarin Chinese, for third through fifth grades.

The dual-language program would involve English and Spanish speakers learning state-mandated curriculum in both languages.

The plan would be to add a grade level each school year until fifth grade.

Also, North Georgia College & State University student-teachers and education faculty would work at the school, giving teachers-to-be experience with a diverse student body.

"Schools in the 1950s ... don’t exist anymore," said Bob Michael, NGCSU’s dean of education.

Will Schofield, superintendent of Hall County schools, said the new school shouldn’t cost the system any extra money, as state "full-time enrollment" dollars follow students wherever they attend school.

In addition, the system could qualify for $200,000 in state grant money and another $200,000 in the fall of 2009 to go toward the charter school, said Eloise Barron, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.

Gerald Boyd, school improvement specialist for the district, said the charter school also would have an instant location, Chestnut Mountain. The current school is moving to a new building off Union Church Road.

"We have a very large growth rate (in the school system)," Boyd said. "We would never be able to build a (charter) school of this type. We have to build for a growing population."

Audience members spent an hour or so peppering school officials with questions and comments, ranging from staffing the school to whether parents would have to worry about homework in Spanish (they won’t, Schofield said).

One key issue dealt with choice. The charter school would have no district lines, as all other schools in the district have, so it would be open to anyone in the district.

Eventually, Schofield said, he sees the district opening up other schools of choice, such as a fine arts high school and a math/science elementary school, within certain
areas, or "clusters," of the county.

One audience member, Tammy Davis, said she favored the idea but she felt a math/science school would be a better first charter step for the school system.

"Research and development and math and science drive an economy," said Davis, who has a fifth-grader at Chestnut Mountain and a first-grader at the private Maranatha Christian Academy in Oakwood.

Chestnut Mountain parents Loy and Melissa McCollum strongly support the proposed charter school.

"We have two bright children and we believe that learning a language early is so important," Melissa said.

They also said they understand there might be heavy competition for seats at the school.

"Hopefully, if it comes to a lottery, we will win," Melissa said.

Barron and Boyd said the state board could vote on the charter application by the first of the year.

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