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Sardis Elementary examines whether charter school status could help close academic achievement gap
Kristen Wedegis, 8, wearing brown, and Victor Birmingham, 7, both in the middle of the photograph, work on pattern block art on Monday afternoon at Sardis Elementary. Sardis Elementary is applying for charter status as it develops “the enrichment model” which will include hands on learning, such as this exercise. - photo by Robin Michener Nathan

Principal Jan Hughes sees a wide academic achievement gap between "children of poverty and children of wealth" at Sardis Elementary School.

And she believes the "Schoolwide Enrichment Model" might be the way to narrow that gap, beginning in a formal way in the 2009-10 school year.

"We see a need to reach all our kids," Hughes told the Hall County Board of Education Monday night.

She talked to the board about Sardis looking at offering the new program through charter school status. The board may vote April 14 to apply to the Georgia Department of Education for a charter planning grant.

The Enrichment Model is tied to Renzulli Learning Systems, a Web-based system that enables teachers to use "differentiated" curriculum, or lessons that line up with a range of student learning styles and abilities.

The school system uses Renzulli at its 20 elementary and six middle schools, including Sardis.

"We are in the research stages only," Hughes said about the charter application.

The school’s leadership and charter teams, comprising faculty and community members, have discussed going forward with the charter "once the research has been conducted and all stakeholders agree that this model is in the best interest of our ... students," she added.

Sardis, which is at 2805 Sardis Road in northwestern Hall, would continue to serve students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Charter schools typically involve more academic flexibility but also more accountability. Charter school approval is up to the state Board of Education.

The enrichment model, which has been adopted in about 2,500 schools nationwide, seeks to develop "talents in all children and providing a broad range of advanced-level enrichment experiences for all students," Hughes said in an intention letter to the state Department of Education.

The letter, addressed to Andrew Broy of the Charter School Division, goes on to say that school officials believe the model "will provide a research-based plan to address specific student needs," beginning with the youngest students.

Hughes points out that while many students pass state basic-skills tests, students with special needs, who come from poor households or are learning English as their second language "scored significantly below state expectations."

Also, "there is a growing need to have bilingual instruction and instructors in the primary grades in order for students to achieve in reading and English language arts."

Superintendent Will Schofield said several schools throughout the district have been studying for about 1« years the potential benefits of a charter school.

"Sardis is probably the furthest along in that conversation," he said.

Hughes said the school’s "leadership team" will schedule community informational meetings after spring break, which is April 7-11.

Charlotte Cliche, who has a child in fourth grade and a rising kindergartner, is on the school’s charter research committee.

She said she has been "incredibly impressed" with Renzulli Learning.

"The thing I like about it is it almost seems kind of boundless," Cliche said. "When (my daughter) ... is given an assignment, she’s free to look at that assignment, but then she continues on and can investigate on her own within this framework that is set up."

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