Valdosta Daily Times

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May 8, 2013

Charter schools, a closer look

VALDOSTA — Representatives from the Georgia Charter Schools Association greeted Valdosta citizens Tuesday evening to provide a closer look into the charter school system.  

Executive Vice President of GCSA, Andrew Lewis, and Director of Outreach, RaShaun Holliman, arrived at VSU’s Continuing Education building on North Patterson to address many questions and concerns about independent charter schools.

“We should be able to say we are doing good with these groups of students and we want the other schools to know about it,” Lewis said.

The Georgia Charter Schools Association is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation that strives to advance education. They ensure every charter school to be free of tuition and open to the public, nonsectarian, free from regulations but are held accountable at all costs, and administer state mandated testing. However, the numerous factors that apply to an independent charter school also apply to a traditional public school, so what is the difference?

Independent charter schools give individuals the freedom to innovate, autonomy in selecting school leaders and staff, efficiently dismiss poor-performing teachers, are governed by a local, independent board, and will not be renewed if academic achievement declines.

“If a charter school is not performing, they can face closure,” Holliman said.

Holliman proceeded to discuss the formula for a successful charter school. Each organization combines flexibility, autonomy and accountability, equaling outstanding student achievement. A former public charter school principal himself, Holliman stands strongly behind this educational movement to further the well being of every child in the state of Georgia.

“The challenge is for us to up the game,” Holliman said.

The overall graduation rate in the state of Georgia is currently at 67 percent. With the option of choosing a public charter school over a traditional public school, GCSA hopes to see an increase in that percentage over the next couple of years.

“It empowers a parent to ask one question, what is the best setting for my child?” Lewis said. “The vast majority of Americans can not afford private school, which leaves us with the idea, are we satisfied with a traditional public school?”

Statistics show that during the 2011 school year,  Valdosta’s school system averaged around 54.7 percent, giving Valdosta the twelfth largest drop in the graduation rating in the state. The Lowndes County school averaged around 66.5 percent, giving Lowndes the 45th largest drop.

“Charters are not better or worse than traditional public schools. A number of charter schools are doing outstanding and then some are not,” Lewis said. “However, there is a role that charter schools can play in K12 education.”

Public charter schools play a key role in 48 out of the 50 states and are proven to be an innovative mechanism for students and their achievements. The majority of charter schools in this state are located towards the Atlanta area, including Ivy Preparatory Academy and Amana Academy, one of the higher performing academies in the state.

“Atlanta public schools are an outstanding authorizer of charter schools, despite the turmoil,” Lewis said. “I support the Atlanta public schools and how they have incorporated charter schools in the environment. I do believe the state needs to look at the areas that are most under served.”

As the meeting came to end, Lewis and Holliman encouraged citizens to ask questions regarding their charter school presentation and various concerns and opinions were addressed.

The primary concern voiced by Valdosta and Lowndes County citizens alike was the possibility of a charter school taking away the productivity and well being of students currently enrolled in the local public schools.

Other concerns included the funding for a charter school, transportation and its overall application process.

“You have an active board, it’s a rigorous process. They meet together to meet a specific need,” Lewis said. “It’s a seven member board that needs to be approved by the state board of education.”

 Lewis and Holliman closed their speech by informing the public their main goal was to show what a charter school can and can’t provide. They will continue their presentation in  Albany, Ga., and stop in Savannah and Augusta, Ga., next month.

For more information about Georgia public charter schools, visit www.gacharters.org, or call (404)-835-8900.

For more on this story and other local news, subscribe to The Valdosta Daily Times e-Edition, or our print edition

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