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Long County High School forming Junior Chamber
Superintendent also urges voters to reject Opportunity School District
Long County High School students Madison Smith, Molly Rowe, Madison Steen, Harley Dawson, Natalie Pattison, Katherine Madorma and School System Superintendent Dr. Robert Waters have been working together to form the Long County Junior Chamber of Commerce. Not pictured is Kyana Calhoun. - photo by Patty Leon

Opportunity School District

The referendum, which if passed would amend the Georgia Constitution to allow for failing schools to be placed into an Opportunity School District, will be worded on the Nov. 8 general election ballot as follows: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended to allow the state to intervene in chronically failing public schools in order to improve student performance?” Voters may choose between “yes” or “no.”

Long County School System Superintendent Dr. Robert Waters was the keynote speaker at the Long County Chamber of Commerce’s Progress through People breakfast Tuesday at Compass Worship Center in Ludowici.

Waters spoke about the introduction of a Junior Chamber of Commerce at Long County High School and Gov. Nathan Deal’s education plan.

Waters said the idea of creating a Junior Chamber of Commerce appealed to him ,making the task of moving things forward easy, especially with the assistance of his student advisory council.

“We want our students to have leadership skills and training,” Waters said. “The Chamber of Commerce deals with business, civic duties and government, and if we are going to make our community better, we have to grow our own leaders. And in order to grow our own leaders, we have to have something like this.”

Long County High School students Madison Smith, Molly Rowe, Madison Steen, Harley Dawson, Natalie Pattison, Katherine Madorma and Kyana Calhoun are serving as the advisory council, helping Waters develop the junior board.

The board will develop the program criteria.

Waters said the Junior Chamber will enhance leadership skills and give the students a chance to explore business and government in action while providing a point system for those involved in the Chamber, which might lead to scholarship awards.

Members would receive points for attending Ludowici City Council, Long County Board of Commissioners and Long County Board of Education meetings, as well as for touring local businesses and volunteering for civic projects.

Waters said the program criteria will soon be presented to the Chamber of Commerce directors so the plan can move forward.

Waters then discussed a topic he said the community needs to be aware of, as it concerns the future of public education across Georgia — Senate Bill 133 and Senate Resolution 287.

The referendum, should it pass in November, authorizes the General Assembly to provide for the creation of an Opportunity School District. It authorizes the state to assume the supervision, management and operation of any public school deemed to be failing. It also authorizes the state to receive, control and spend local, state and federal funds appropriated for schools under the supervision or operation of and OSD.

Waters said the plan is modeled after similar programs in place in Tennessee and Louisiana. Both of those programs, he said, are too new to show sustained improvement.

Under the plan, the governor would appoint a superintendent — separate from the state school superintendent, who is elected — who would oversee failing schools placed into the OSD.

“One superintendent for the whole state of Georgia for up 100 schools that would be in the program up to five years in that district,” Waters said. “And the important thing is that he is the one that determines the intervention model.”

Waters said the state plans to use the College and Career Ready Performance Index, or CCRPI, to determine which schools are failing.

He added the appointed OSD superintendent does not answer to anyone but the governor. In selecting the intervention model, the superintendent may directly manage an OSD school, reconstitute the school as a charter school, share the governance of the school with the local school board or close the school.

If the governance is shared, Waters said the local board operates the school, but the OSD superintendent directs all the changes.

He said he thinks $8.9 billion is spent on public education in the state.

“Those legislators have been after that public money to move it into private areas,” Waters said.

He said the state would have total control in hiring, firing and curriculum for OSD schools. If passed, it would be implemented in fiscal-year 2018, which begins July 1, 2017.

“The state would have total control. … The contents of the building belong to the OSD. … The local board will be required to cooperate fully with OSD,” he said. “The OSD will be in control of schools to an aloof entity not accountable to voters or parents. … This superintendent will probably be in Atlanta, and he is going to try and run a school in Camden County or all the way in Seminole County or up in Dade County or here in Long County.”

If an OSD school is reconstituted as a charter school, the OSD or State Charter School Commission determines education providers and management, and the school would still be under the auspices of the OSD.

Waters said the bill is unnecessary because of two existing laws that he said have never been used.

Both laws, in place since 2000, allow for on-site audits of any school. The findings of those audits, and recommendations for improvement, are reported to the local board of education.

This, he said, would allow the local board to correct failing schools.

Waters said the community needs to understand the language of SB 133 and SR 287 so voters can make an educated decision in November. He said the way the referendum is worded on the ballot is misleading.

He said passing the measure would could mean public funding will be funneled into private businesses, many who already control school testing.

“The testing companies have spent $2.8 billion in testing,” Waters said. “That’s a pretty good industry.”

Waters said more public meetings regarding the issue will be presented as the November election approaches, and he advocated for people to vote against the referendum.

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