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Warren County approved as Georgia's first charter system

It made perfect sense.

The state Board of Education recently approved Warren County to become the first charter system in Georgia under a legislative initiative sponsored last year by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

Warren County was one of four other school districts to submit an application for the status, but the others were told their applications could not be approved until they were revised.

"When I saw the requirements of what the system charter was all about, it was already what we were doing here. And it fit well with our five year plan," said Warren County School Superintendent Carole Jean Carey. "... And that's just one way to get extra funding."

Ms. Carey said Warren County Schools will receive an extra $125,000, that the Lt. Governor promised any charter system, plus another $100 per full time enrolled student, which will add another $78,000 to the system's budget.

But the income doesn't stop there.

In about six weeks, Ms. Carey said they will apply for another $600,000 in charter funds and also will be eligible to re-apply for a career academy.

"And we're applying for $3.2 million there. So that is where we are," she said. "And we are really making a lot of plans."

Charter systems, along with career academies, were Lt. Gov. Cagle's educational initiatives to promote innovation and flexibility in the classroom. A charter system provides the opportunity for teachers, administrators, parents and school boards to have greater flexibility and to determine the educational needs of the students within their district in exchange for specific achievement standards.

"I think it does hold you accountable, because you have to put down your goals and things like that," Ms. Carey said. "We used our strategic plan and wrote it in the form of a charter, and so we've contracted with the state to have pretty much school level government."

The Warrenton County charter had four components: a K-12 leadership track, K-12 advanced academic track, K-12 fine arts and K-12 career awareness/vocational track.

Some immediate differences the 840 students in Warren County will notice next year are art classes, advanced academic electives, calculus and advanced calculus classes, anatomy, public speaking and composition class and a current events class.

A welding class and an introduction to early childhood development will be offered in cooperation with Sandersville Technical College. A leadership program will be offered to elementary students as well as high school students, and the schedule will change to block scheduling. To accommodate the changes, the superintendent said some faculty positions were rearranged, and they are in the process of hiring new faculty.

"Now we are going from there to see what we need next. And depending on the funding that comes through, we will have some other things that we need to look at," Ms. Carey said.

The other school districts that have applied - Gainesville City, Marietta City, Decatur City and Chattahoochee County - have until the next state board meeting on June 12 to revise their petitions. Board members said they were concerned that the districts were not giving enough power to each school to write its own budgets and hire teachers, which is a key component of the state's charter school laws. Until then, Warrenton will remain Georgia's first and only charter system.

"We're real excited and real proud of the accomplishments of our kids and our teachers and real excited to be a part of the charter system," Ms. Carey said.

Morris News Service reports were used in this article.

Web posted on Thursday, June 05, 2008

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