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Schools to seek charter status
Flowery Branch High, Chestnut Mountain Elementary plan programs
Chestnut Mountain Elementary fifth-grade teacher Tom Wandrum helps students record a news program in front of a green screen Tuesday morning while students organize cue cards as part of a class project dealing with the Bill of Rights. Chestnut Mountain plans to apply to become a charter school.

If Flowery Branch High and Chestnut Mountain Elementary schools have their way, there might be two more Hall County charter schools added to the mix as early as next year.

Both schools received $8,000 to research, plan and visit model schools in preparation for their charter applications, Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said.

Flowery Branch is looking to create a global studies and leadership program.

"The charter felt a natural fit for our school and community because of the leadership we already emphasize within our school," Wanda O'Kelley, a business instructor who is on the school's charter planning committee, said in an email to The Times.

The global studies and leadership model is based on ways school is being done in Hall County already, O'Kelley said. That model focuses on making opportunities in leadership, different cultures and positive international relationships available for students.

"The charter will take into account more autonomous and individualized learning by having students select an interest area ‘pathway' and researching that interest for the full year, culminating in an end-of-year activity involving an international experience," O'Kelley said.

For example, a student who chooses to study Peru for a year immerses her education with the country's customs, language, culture and government.

"The culminating project could involve a week abroad to obtain hands-on experience that students will bring back to share with the community at large," O'Kelley said. "This is just one example of what we are thinking."

Other ways students could gain hands-on experience might include working with one of Hall County's international businesses or a global leader training sponsored through ROTC.

Chestnut Mountain's charter is designed after the school's existing program of choice, the Creative School of Inquiry.

Parent interest spurred the movement to make Chestnut Mountain a charter school with the Creative School of Inquiry as its foundation.

The program started last year for select third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms. This year it's expanded to every grade level.

"The program was so successful," Chestnut Mountain Principal Sabrina May said. "The children just loved it and their test scores showed improvement."

Students develop questions on things they're interested in, based on the Georgia Performance Standards, and then research and create a project to teach faculty and fellow students what they learned.

For instance, May said, fifth-graders learn about the Civil War as part of the Georgia Performance Standards.

After listening to a mini-lesson from their teacher, students choose a topic to further study. She said students choose topics as varied as period clothing, war weaponry and generals in their family to inquire about. Once the research is complete, students can dress up, build 3-D displays, write skits or use a variety of other ways to present their project.

Creative School of Inquiry is based on the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program, May said.

"It's an investigation thing. Our kids are trying to investigate and figure things out," May said.

O'Kelley said she was both excited and apprehensive about Flowery Branch High becoming a charter school.

"Change is always an unknown and teachers are sometimes not comfortable with the unknown," she said. "That being said, it all comes down to the kids and what is best for them. Being able to prepare them for the world of tomorrow and how to make positive changes living in that world as a productive leader is our main task at hand."

Both charters are being developed locally and will have to be approved by the Hall County Schools Board of Education before going forward.