State board of education members at their monthly meeting unanimously approved its consent agenda, which included the district's charter application. The state vote was the last hurdle for Cartersville officials, as they now prepare for the July 1 transition to a charter district.
"Everybody had a lot of input into it in working with the schools," Assistant Superintendent Ken Clouse said during Thursday night's meeting of the Cartersville School Board. "I think it's going to be a good thing, giving us the flexibility that we need to have to do the best we can for individual kids. It will give us some flexibility in terms of scheduling and how we serve students, and being able to look at them and be able to do something, instead of saying, 'Well, the rules say we can't do that.'"
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.
Cartersville's application listed five main goals the district hopes to meet as it operates as a charter system. One goal is that at least 92 percent of families in the system will rate the school system and its schools a "B" or higher in overall satisfaction in a perception survey.
The other goals focus on academic achievement, as district staff will work to ensure that students will meet high academic standards by 2014-2015, the last year of the proposed charter; reduce the achievement gap between ethnic groups; raise Cartersville High's graduation rate by at least 10 percent; and have the percentage of students who exceed academic standards in content areas increase by 10 percent.
The district's contract lists several "innovative features" it aims to implement during the charter's five-year term. In addition to 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." The contract also says the district would not be limited just to the areas of flexibility listed.
"Our motto has been 'Making it personal,'" Clouse said. "This will give us another opportunity to take another step in that direction, and make it personal for the kids."
Cartersville officially began its quest toward charter status in March 2009 when school board members gave district leaders the OK to file a letter of intent to seek charter system status. After submitting the letter prior to a May 1 deadline, officials went on to file their charter petition in late October.
In March of this year, the district submitted an addendum to the petition that had been requested by state officials who had asked for more details, such as language to be included in the district's contract if they were approved to become a charter system. The application was up for consideration Thursday after being moved forward by the state board at its May meeting.
Also getting the nod for charter system status Thursday was White County Schools, which along with Cartersville brought the total number of charter systems in Georgia to eight. The two join the city school districts of Decatur, Gainesville and Marietta and the county systems of Floyd, Putnam and Warren.
In a written statement, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle praised the state board's decision to approve Cartersville and White County's charter system petitions.
"I applaud the hard work and dedication of the school systems of Cartersville City and White County put forth to achieve these new charters and am confident that they will maximize the potential for educational excellence as a result of becoming a Charter System," Cagle said. "Charter Systems offer the truest form of local control and we have already seen a genuine paradigm shift as more charter schools advance flexibility, innovation and resourceful teaching."