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$7.8M 'seed fund' helps schools innovation, flexibility


State grant part of district's charter conversion



October 07, 2013
NORTH FULTON, Ga. – Local schools with innovative ideas for improvement will now have access to "seed money" to help get great ideas off the drawing board and into action in the classroom.

Funded through a nearly $8 million allocation from the Georgia General Assembly last session to assist in the transition to a charter system, the seed fund will be managed by the Fulton Education Foundation (FEF) and allocated to local schools through an application process.

The FEF is a nonprofit organization composed of business leaders and executives who work to strengthen the relationship between the school system and the community.

Fulton officials said having the FEF oversee the funding ensures the money will not get lost in the general fund, and provides another level of oversight and independence to ensure the funds are being used as intended.

"The goal is to show the state these funds can be spent responsibly and in a way that moves schools forward and unleashes untapped innovation in our schools," said Ken Zeff, director of innovation and strategy for Fulton Schools.

Last year, the Fulton County School System became the state's largest charter system, providing a blanket waiver from most state education rules in exchange for the goal of higher academic achievement.

Currently 20 schools, including nine schools in North Fulton, have seated governance councils as they begin the process of determining the rules and regulations from which they wish to seek flexibility. Each school was required to complete a strategic plan for their school that looks at long-range goals and areas for flexibility.

Once the plans are approved by the superintendent and the Fulton School Board, schools can apply in January for funding, if needed, to implement innovative programs.

The FEF developed criteria for the funding of a program, which includes concept, impact, feasibility and quality of submission. Zeff said the money will be allocated equitably among the district's four learning communities, with money set aside for schools that will be making the transition to a governance council over the next two years.

At Milton High School, Principal Cliff Jones said his school's recently completed strategic plan looks at adjustments to the school day, school-based fundraising and use of funds for positions, technology integration and waivers to seat time and class sizes.

At Northview High, Principal Paul Brannon is also looking at flexibility with class sizes and the creation of a health science curriculum utilizing private sector partners.

Fulton Schools will receive the $7.8 million over the next two years, with the hope that the state legislature will continue to fund charter system grants in subsequent years. Funds are available to all school systems in the state that are converting to a charter system; however most of the districts are using the funds for training and staff development in the transition.

Of the 18 charter systems in Georgia, only Fulton County Schools is allocating the state's charter funds directly to the local schools.

Fulton Superintendent Robert Avossa said his goal is to see successful programs implemented at local schools that can then be rolled out system-wide.

"It goes beyond just an opportunity at an individual school – we hope it eventually impacts kids across the district," said Avossa.

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