Stephens Co. School System To Pursue Charter System Status

The Stephens County School System will pursue charter system status.

Tuesday, the Stephens County Board of Education voted unanimously to approve and sign a letter of intent to send to the state Department of Education declaring that the school system would seek to pursue charter system status.

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

There are a number of different options to choose from, including maintaining the status quo.

However, supporters said that a charter system will provide much more flexibility for a school system as opposed to other choices that would include significantly less flexibility and more state oversight.

Multiple Stephens County Board of Education members, including Sandra Childs, said they like the flexibility that a charter system seems to provide.

“The thing that I like about it best is it is the one thing that we can choose that we can have great input into what our school system does for our kids and who better to know what the kids in Stephens County need than Stephens County,” said Childs.

School officials point out that a charter system is different from charter schools.

Stephens County School Superintendent Sherrie Whiten says that in a charter system, a local Board of Education reaches a contract with the state’s Department of Education about the operation of the school system.

“What we are talking about is still talking about our public school system,” said Whiten. “We are not talking about a private charter or anything like that. Basically, what we are talking about here is a contract. Our contract for our school system will be with the state Department of Education. In that contract, we are going to spell out what do we want to do differently here in Stephens County for our students in exchange for not having to worry about a lot of those state rules. At the same time though, the state, as part of that contract, will require us to have certain goals and we have to meet those student achievement goals. That is the accountability part.”

A charter 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. That team can consist of parents, teachers, community leaders, and students in some cases, and looks at things at a school level.

Whiten said that such increased community involvement can be a good thing.

“We want more folks to know what goes on in our schools,” said Whiten. “We want more people to know what are the things that we are going to try to do differently for our kids. What are those goals that we have set that we have to meet for our kids in that contract with the state.”

At this point, Whiten said the next step is to begin working on the charter system contract and plan that will go to the state, which she added can be a lengthy process.

Whiten said that plan would be written after a number of meetings with teachers, parents, students, business leaders, and other stakeholders in the community.

Board of Education Member David Fricks said he supports creating the charter system plan, but adds that the Board needs to be wholly involved in the creation of that plan. A charter system plan has to be approved by the local Board of Education, as well as the state.

Banks, Madison, and White counties are already charter systems.