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State grants charter status to Liberty schools
Parents, community have more say in decisions
Dr. Valya Lee 1
Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee presented the application to the Georgia State Board in Atlanta July 16. - photo by File photo

The charter-system application for the Liberty County School System has been approved.

That means that in the upcoming school year, which begins Tuesday, Aug. 4, all district schools will operate as charter schools.

The application was approved July 16 during the Georgia State Board meeting in Atlanta. Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee presented the application and answered questions from the charter committee, which approved the application.

“I was extremely proud that our school system had been approved to become a charter system,” Lee said. “All stakeholders, both internal and external, came together and provided input and worked hard to get the charter approved. The five-year charter will work hand in hand with the school system’s Blueprint for Progress — five year strategic plan. Becoming a charter system provides the district with flexibility to implement innovative strategies and opportunities to meet the needs of our students.”

The pathway to the charter system started in January 2014, during a board retreat. Attendees reviewed the flexibility options from the state, which are: charter system; Investing in Educational Excellence, or IE2; or status quo. Over the course of several months, there were numerous meetings discussing the charter option. In July 2014, the district notified the Georgia Department of Education that it intended to apply to become a charter system.

Patti Crane, the school system’s chief information officer said, “Basically, it (the charter-system) means more flexibility for the schools to identify the needs of their school population.”

The flexibility is supposed to allow schools to have more control in decision-making. However, the school board still has the final say.

Part of the charter-system contract includes a list of innovations the district will implement in an effort to meet its academic goals. Innovations include: courses for high-school credit provided at middle schools, creation of digital content in core-content areas, flexible scheduling according to student needs, an increase in fine-arts opportunities, and a reading transition course in high school.

Crane said some innovations will be implemented slowly over time. For example, according to the LCSS charter application, this fall, students in grades nine through 12 will complete surveys to determine the fine-arts areas that students find most interesting. Once identified, the district will begin recruiting specialists, but the courses won’t start until the 2016-17 school year. Flexible scheduling for reading and math intervention is supposed to begin this school year. Principals can set the daily schedules to allow time for additional reading and math instruction.

One change that already has begun is the implementation of the School Governance Team. The teams will replace Student Advisory Councils, and they have been undergoing training throughout the summer. A governance team consists of the principal, one certified employee, one classified employee, three parents of students currently enrolled at that school and a community or business partner.

In April, Susan Avant, the school system’s executive director for student services, said the charter system gives the governance team authority and the decision-making power over the school operations. Members are able to make recommendations to the principal about school-improvement plans, approve fundraisers, participate in the process of recommending a new principal to the superintendent and other duties. Avant said each team should reflect the school’s population.

“There are different ways it can be done. For example, if I’m in a middle school, I can have one parent that represents the seventh grade and another for eighth,” Avant explained. “Or if I’m in a school where 60-70 percent are military, then I would want two of my parents to be military-connected or impacted. Each building is unique, which is why there are some options.”

The elections were conducted by secret ballot in May, and Crane said they went smoothly. Each school will have a governance team when school starts.

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