Charter renewals mean continued flexibility in student instruction
By Kathryn Schiliro
In an effort to cater instruction to county students, Morgan County Primary, Elementary and Middle schools are renewing their charter school status with the state Department of Education this year.
In order to do so, they need your help.
On Thursday, Oct. 21, at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., parents of students attending these schools are asked to come and vote on the schools’ proposed charters. Provided they pass muster by a simple majority, these charters will then go to the Morgan County Board of Education then the Georgia Board of Education for approval.
So what is a charter school? And how is it different from a traditional public school?
Charter schools are allowed certain exemptions – outlined in the charter itself – from Georgia's Title 20, the state law pertaining to education, as well as other state or local "rule, regulation, policy, or procedure," with some exceptions. These schools are still required to teach curriculum dictated by the Georgia Performance Standards and must meet federal and state requirements for student progress.
"A charter school is a public school that operates according to the terms of a charter, or contract, that has been approved by a local board of education and the State Board of Education. The charter school may request waivers from provisions of Title 20 of Georgia state law and any state or local rule, regulation, policy, or procedure relating to schools in the school district. In exchange for this flexibility, the charter school is bound by contract to be held accountable for meeting the performance-based objectives specified in the charter," according charter school FAQs—information taken from the Georgia DOE's Web site, public.doe.k12.ga.us.
Traditional public schools are organized according to federal and state school laws, State BOE rules and local BOE policies, according to the Web site. Charter schools, on the other hand, are organized according to federal laws, APPLICABLE state school laws and State BOE rules that CANNOT BE WAIVED, as well as the terms of the charter.
There are currently 113 charter schools in the state.
This will be these schools' second charter application—MCPS and MCES have been charter schools for five years now; MCMS has been for three years. In this go-round, all three schools are asking for charter status for the next 10 years. This means a chance to collect long-term data, according to school administration.
Charter renewal is, "essentially, reviewing and rewriting the original application with stakeholders," Assistant Superintendent Dr. Ralph Bennett said. Further, school charters do not affect the school's funding; instead, they solely affect the flexibility the school has in regards to Title 20 (things like class size, time for remediation, etc.).
The schools' charter petitions, which will be voted on on Oct. 21, are available on their respective Web sites. The charter petitions, provided they are passed, should be voted on by the local BOE around November and the state BOE early next year.
Morgan County Primary School
Goals of MCPS – as outlined in the charter petition – include increased proficiency and continual improvement of reading and language arts, and math skills; a reduction in the retention rate for Kindergarten through grade 2 students; and the establishment, by teachers, of a "volunteer base of parents, guardians, and community members as tutors to support student achievement in the classroom and [to] improve instructional effectiveness."
The school is requesting waivers in regard to:
• "class size"
There are currently 20 to 21 students per class, according to Principal Dr. Betsy Short; with this waiver, some classes may have a maximum of 25 students.
• "use of personnel"
With the potential redistribution of students – see the previous and next bullet points – the school is asking for flexibility in how classrooms are staffed.
• "EIP (Early Intervention Program, or remediation) eligibility to 3 [percent] of school enrollment"
At present, the state's cap on EIP population is 3 percent of a school; MCPS is asking for the percentage to increase if need be.
• "EIP eligibility documentation"
The school would use their own benchmark checklist as opposed to the state's EIP checklist.
• "certification requirements by Georgia Professional Standards Commission"
If there was a qualified teacher coming from outside Georgia who didn't yet have state certification, this would allow the school to still hire the teacher, provided the teacher was working on certification, Short said.
Morgan County Elementary School
Goals of MCES – as outlined in the charter petition – include continued improvement in reading skills for students grades 3 through 5; improved reading, math and writing skills for students grades 3 through 5; and the development and implementation of "standards based evaluation rubrics and portfolios as another way to communicate student progress in meeting standards."
The school is requesting waivers in regard to:
• "flexibility in maximum class size requirements particularly in the Gifted/Enrichment classes"
• "flexibility to provide Gifted/Enrichment students instruction in all academic areas needed beyond two segments a day"
• "flexibility in the number of students identified for EIP services. The state allows for 3 [percent] of the student population. We would like to serve up to 8 [percent] to better meet the needs of our at risk students. In addition, we would like to use CRCT scores and student portfolio benchmarks to determine eligibility."
Currently, CRCT scores and a state checklist are used to determine EIP eligibility; this waiver calls for CRCT scores and a MCES-generated benchmark checklist in determining EIP eligibility.
• "In order to better meet the needs of at risk students (those not meeting standards), we would like to provide additional reading and math instruction during the social studies block. We would like to incorporate social studies instruction in the reading block. We are not requesting a waiver of the content, but we are requesting these students be waived from taking the social studies CRCT. We would cap the percent of students using this intervention at 3 [percent]. MCECS would monitor the progress of the Georgia Performance Standards for these students through benchmarks and student portfolios..."
MCES is asking that students in need of remediation in reading or math be permitted to get that additional help during what would be social studies time. Social studies would be incorporated with reading, as students would be reading appropriate social studies-related materials.
While the school is asking that these students be exempt from the social studies portion of the CRCT, Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is only concerned with CRCT scores in reading and language arts and math—why social studies has been chosen as the time for remediation. However, students would still be required to meet Georgia Performance Standards in regard to social studies.
Morgan County Middle School
Goals of MCMS – as outlined in the charter petition – include a reduction of students in need of remediation in reading through smaller learning communities; an increase in the number of students achieving "meets or exceeds" on the reading portion of the CRCT; a reduction of "the number of academic failures in math through the use of extended learning opportunities and smaller learning communities to eliminate the need for academic summer school;" an increase of the number of students that achieve "exceeds" on the reading portion of the CRCT; and an increase in the number of smaller learning communities for all stakeholders, through a "Community Extended Learning Center" and experiential learning.
The school is requesting the following waivers:
• "In order to better address the needs of students who have not met state standards in reading and/or math, we would like a waiver on the middle school program funding assurance requiring five hours of instruction in language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and reading. Students not meeting state standards in reading and/or math might receive five additional hours [per week] of instruction in math, reading and writing."
A student in need of remediation in reading, then, would be pulled from one class period a day to get additional help. All teachers on staff are "certified" to teach reading, according to MCMS Principal Dr. Joe Hutcheson, so this wouldn't mean a need to hire more teachers.
• "In accordance with waiver request number one, we ask that students receiving five additional hours of math and/or reading be waived from taking the social studies CRCT. Only the identified students from the above would utilize this waiver and will be capped at 8 [percent] of FAY (full academic year) students. Students will still be exposed to designated power standards of social studies through extended learning opportunities."
Much like MCES, MCMS is asking that students who need extra help in reading or math be pulled from social studies in order to get that help. And, while they would be reading social studies-related material, the school is asking that these students not be required to take the social studies portion of the CRCT, even though that portion of the CRCT doesn't count towards AYP.
(Something else to bear in mind: remediation isn't meant to last all school year.)
• "After piloting a standards-based reporting system over the next five years (2011-2015), we request a waiver of numeric grade reporting to the state (2016-2021)."
Does this mean elimination of numeric grades and the A, B, C, D, F system? Kind of.
Instead of a report card with a numeric grade, the state (and parents) would receive an benchmark checklist – based on Georgia Performance Standards – with a "S" for "Satisfactory," "N" for "Needs Improvement," or "U" for "Unsatisfactory."
The argument goes: Johnny has a 72 in math. So he needs help in math, but with what? This way, parents know what area, specifically, of the state-prescribed curriculum Johnny needs help with. This checklist format, however, will be backed up with Johnny's numeric grades – from homework, classwork, tests, etc. – to show how the teacher arrived at the determination on the checklist.
• "We request a blanket waiver of all provisions of Title 20 except those that might not be exempted by a charter school."
This blanket statement could affect rules determining class size, use of personnel, etc.
• "Any student who demonstrates mastery of content standards at the beginning of the school year will be exposed to state standards equivalent to current content knowledge. Cross-grade state testing could be required. We request a waiver to allow cross-grade state testing."
If a student in grade 6 shows he/she has a handle on grade 6 standards and is promoted in a subject area, this waiver permits that grade 6 student to take the grade 7 portion of the CRCT, for example, in that subject area.
Printed in the October 7, 2010 edition.