For Cartersville City Schools, one of the most important events of the year occurred with a transition into a charter system. A charter system is a public school system that operates under a charter or contract approved by the district's school board and the state Board of Education, with the agreement allowing the system greater flexibility in various areas as long as it can maintain student performance-based objectives.
The five-year contract would allow flexibilities in funding expenditures and "instructional scheduling and delivery to meet the differing needs of individual students." The district also will be allowed under the proposed contract to "provide nontraditional pathways to identified high school and middle school students to earn academic credit," and develop for high school students a leadership academy "designed to integrate academic skills and character development." Overall, the new system would give more local control and flexibility for the Cartersville Board of Education to help individual kids where previous rules would not be as helpful.
Statewide, the top 10 finalists for the Georgia Teacher of the Year award were named and recognized. Among the finalists was Cass Middle's Perry Rentz. The eighth-grade English Language Arts instructor was named Bartow County Schools' Teacher of the Year in October 2009, and went on to become one of the 10 state finalists chosen from nearly 150 district teachers of the year who submitted applications to become the 2011 Georgia Teacher of the Year. The award was presented to Pam Williams, an economics teacher from Appling County High School.
Achieving one of his goals this year, Dr. John Barge won the elected position of State School Superintendent. Barge, who was director of Secondary Curriculum for the county system, won the seat in the November election and will begin his new job Jan. 11. Beginning his career in Bartow County, serving as an English teacher at Cass High School from August 1991 to September 1992, Barge has been with the district in a leadership position since July 2006. He has also held assistant principal positions in Haralson County and Rome City Schools before becoming principal of Chestatee High School, where he remained from July 2001 to June 2004. From July 2004 to June 2005, he served as the state director of Career, Technical and Agriculture Education for the Georgia Department of Education. Prior to coming back to Bartow, he was assistant principal of Pepperell High School and system director for High Schools That Work in Floyd County Schools.
In reference to the win, Barge stated, "When you look at the results, and you see that you have 1.3 million people in the state that voted for you, that's a rather humbling thought, and I don't take that lightly, and I greatly, greatly appreciate the confidence that the people of the state of Georgia have placed in me."
Following the approval of a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, the new Cass High School has been revealed to the public. Classes will begin at the site off Cass-White Road on Jan. 4 after construction crews encountered obstacles involving more than two dozen sinkholes on the property, which caused changes to the substantial and final completion dates. The official ribbon cutting was held Dec. 10 to share the almost $67 million project that included numerous upgrades to accommodate up to 2,000 students.
Bartow County Board of Education Chairman Lamar Grizzle and former Gainesville City Board of Education member Kelvin Simmons filed on Jan. 11 in the U.S. District Court in Rome a suit contending that provisions created under Georgia Code 20-2-51(c) are unconstitutional. It named Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the state election board and the County Executive Committee of the Bartow County Republican Party as defendants.
Under 20-2-51(c), which was established under Georgia House Bill 251, passed last year by the state General Assembly, "No person who has an immediate family member sitting on a local board of education or serving as the local school superintendent or as a principal, assistant principal, or system administrative staff in the local school system shall be eligible to serve as a member of such local board of education." Immediate family is defined as "a spouse, child, sibling, or parent or the spouse of a child, sibling, or parent."
According to the suit, Simmons, who had served on the Gainesville School Board since 1991, was disqualified for running for re-election last November because of the new law as his wife is an assistant principal at Gainesville Middle School.
Grizzle's daughter, Kimberly Ruff, was named assistant principal of Pine Log Elementary in March 2006, a position she still holds, and according to the new law, he would be disqualified from running for re-election. However, an order issued by U.S. District Judge Harold L. Murphy allowed Lamar Grizzle to qualify for the July primary, which he lost. Other qualified individuals who may be impacted by the law were allowed to run for any other school board position in Georgia as part of the injunction.
Murphy in his order wrote that while the only stated purpose of the election restriction was to prevent nepotism or favoritism to family and friends, the statute was not narrowly tailored to serve that purpose, adding that it was overly broad because it "simply excludes certain relatives from office, rather than addressing the real problem of nepotism -- possible biased decisions of school board members.
Grizzle's case is based on the contention that HB 251 as passed violates the "multiple subject matter" restriction. Article III, Section V, Paragraph III of the state constitution says, "No bill shall pass which refers to more than one subject matter or contains matter different from what is expressed in the title thereof."
HB 251 also covered the issue of school choice by expanding parents' abilities to enroll their students in schools other than the ones to which they were assigned by their local board of education.
A Federal Appeals Court is in the process of hearing Grizzle's case. Opening arguments began Dec. 17.
-- Former Education Reporter Jon Gargis contributed to this story.