Stephens Co. BOE Learns About Charter System Process

The Stephens County School System continues to look at different models of school operations in preparation for a change in state law.

Stephens County School Superintendent Sherrie Whiten said that state law says that by June 30, 2015, school systems have to choose an operating system moving forward.

“These options give us opportunities to step out from some of the state mandates, do things a little bit different, and (do) things that will better suit our students and our school system and one of those options that we are actually looking at is a charter system,” said Whiten.

Charter systems were the topic of a presentation at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.

Dr. Sherrie Gibney-Sherman from the Madison County School System appeared before the Board to talk about charter systems and Madison County’s experience switching to such a system.

She said charter systems are different from charter schools.

According to Whiten, in a charter system, a local Board of Education reaches an agreement with the state about the operation of the system.

“Our school system would contract with the state Department of Education with a five-year contract and in that contract we would say what are things that we want to do differently, what are the things we think will serve our students here in Stephens County better, and outline those things and then of course, we would have to see increased student achievement,” said Whiten.

Dr. Gibney-Sherman told the Stephens County Board of Education that one of the things that appealed to Madison County about switching to a charter system is the added flexibility. She says it allowed Madison County to better meet the needs of its community.

Whiten agreed that the flexibility a charter system can provide local schools is very appealing.

“We can look at how we do things at the high school, look at some different models at elementary and middle schools, and of course, one of things with the charter system, is it would increase parental involvement,” said Whiten. “That is something we have always looked toward is increasing ways for parents to be involved and knowledgeable about what we do.”

As a charter system, a school system still has a superintendent, Board of Education, principals, and so forth.

However, one additional thing is a school-level governance team that is put in place at each school. According to Dr. Gibney-Sherman, that team consists of parents, teachers, community leaders, and students in some cases, and looks at things at a school level.

Some Stephens County Board of Education members expressed concern about the school-level governance teams and what sorts of decisions they would be making.

Whiten said those teams are also very flexible based on what the local system wants to set up in its agreement with the state.

“Well, a school governance team is a group similar to what we already have with school councils, but it is training that governance team to look at data and to look at different things,” said Whiten. “In the application you make to the state, you define what that looks like.”

School systems do have other options for operating systems, including remaining the same and making no changes.

However, Whiten said remaining the same will result in less flexibility from state rules than schools have now through a waiver process. Also, other options come with more state oversight than a charter system.

One option that Stephens County looked at in 2011, called Investing in Educational Excellence, or IE Squared, is no longer an option. Whiten said it was very similar to a charter system.

Besides Madison County, White and Banks counties have also switched to charter systems.

The Stephens County Board of Education agreed to look over charter system applications that have been approved in Georgia and learn more about, coming back together in a couple of weeks to talk more and possibly make a decision on how to move forward.