Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Parents Drawn to Charters School Reforms Come Home Grown

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Parents Drawn to Charters School Reforms Come Home Grown

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- Anthony Crisafulli of Athens has never taught a public school classroom full of children, but he's hoping to start a charter school for teens behind in subjects such as math and science.

In Savannah, Oglethorpe Academy will open this month as Chatham County's fourth charter school, the first independent start-up middle school of its type in the state.

And in Augusta, partners in a job training company have talked of forming a charter school to help students at risk of dropping out.

While Gov. Roy Barnes' education task force works this summer to find cures for what ails public schools, Georgians with a few ideas of their own are already experimenting with remedies as participants in the state's charter school movement.

Local education boards have slowed efforts in some counties, but charter schools have moved beyond the usual public school setting in the past year since lawmakers made it easier for parents, teachers and organizations to set up their own taxpayer-funded centers of learning.

School boards have been careful because public funding -- and some argue a measure of public control -- follow the children to charter schools.

The state Department of Education has publicly supported the effort, even though its own research shows a mixed performance by the early charter programs -- essentially public schools that received waivers from rules and regulations.

"All the ones where the parents and teachers originate the ideas are certainly worth pursuing," said state School Superintendent Linda Schrenko, who encouraged lawmakers last year to expand the charter school law beyond just the remaking of existing public schools.

"We've been pretty much putting everything on the table. We'll work with anybody."

People like Martha Nesbit, a Savannah newspaper food writer and president of the board of Oglethorpe Academy, set to open Aug. 16 with 231 students.

Nesbit, whose son will attend Oglethorpe Academy, had served on a local task force examining middle schools.

"I didn't feel like we were going to be able to implement things that would make a real difference [quickly]," Nesbit said. "We were making some strides, but they were awfully slow."

At Oglethorpe Academy, student-teacher ratios will be kept low, and parents will have to sign a contract pledging their involvement, including volunteer work.

Oglethorpe Academy will provide after-school care and supervise children before classes too, if necessary. More physical education classes will be required in hopes of both keeping students physically fit and introducing them to the types of activities they may continue throughout their lives, like golf.

Nesbit said the school also will have a behavior code, and parents will know what Oglethorpe Academy expects from them, and their child.

"You need to hold parents accountable. Our parents know if it is a terrible day [for their kid], they need to come get their child," she said.

Parents will sign up to mentor children in need of help as well.

CHARTER DEFINED

Charter schools are publicly funded facilities that are free of most traditional rules and regulations, essentially open for innovation.

More than two-thirds of the states have passed charter school laws since the early 1990s. Nationwide, there are expected to be 1,400 charter schools serving 300,000 students by this fall, according to the Center for Education Reform, with roughly half of the enrollment coming in Arizona, California and Michigan.

Georgia's original law, which only allowed public schools to become charter schools, was considered one of the weakest in the country.

An annual report by the DOE this year on those initial charter schools showed mixed results on standardized tests. …

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