NORTH FULTON, Ga. – Heading into year two of the transition to a charter system, 20 of Fulton County’s 101 schools have already seated governance councils, which will determine the direction of the school for years to come. This year, 37 more schools will follow, including 20 schools in North Fulton.
Last year, the Fulton County School System became the largest charter system in the state. The district received approval from the Georgia Department of Education to be waived from many state laws that govern public schools, with the understanding this flexibility would lead to higher student performance.
Fulton school officials explain the system is now a charter district – not a district of charter schools. Overall governance will remain with the Fulton County Board of Education. Each school, working through its governance council, will develop a strategic plan for its school and determine its own requests for flexibility that must be submitted, and approved, by the Fulton School Board.
Ken Zeff, chief of strategy and innovation for Fulton Schools, said the biggest hurdle was getting governance councils up and running at each of the Cohort One schools – the group of 20 schools that volunteered to be in the initial phase.
The board is comprised of parents, teachers, staff and community members, and elections were held last December for the 200 positions available on the 20 governance councils.
“I am very excited with the level of support from our community,” said Zeff. “Our objective measure of success the first year was if we can get these governance councils off the ground, find folks to run [for the seats] and get them trained.”
In the end, every available seat was filled, elections were held and training began in early spring. Under the charter system, governance members must complete six hours of training and principals have 45 hours.
The governance councils will replace the local school advisory councils (LSACs), which have been in place for more than a decade and which served essentially as the sounding board for the school’s administration.
With a governance council, the stakes are much higher and the power spread across the board as it works to develop a strategic plan to increase student achievement.
But before schools can begin asking for waivers from standard procedures, Zeff said each council is tasked with creating a strategic plan for its school. The process, said Zeff, should take schools up to six months.
“Phase One for governance councils [involves] collecting information about their organization and school and developing a needs analysis,” said Zeff. “This involves setting long-term outcomes and determining strategies on how to move their school forward over the next few years.”
At Northview High School, Principal Paul Brannon sent out a survey to thousands of students, parents, community leaders, businesses and other organizations asking for feedback on what the school did well, what it needed to work on and the perception of the school from the community standpoint.
“[Overall], the feedback was very positive,” said Brannon, who is in his third year at Northview. “The big focus was centered around technology and how to incorporate it more into the school.”
He said more than 50 percent of the surveys were returned, and the feedback provided the roadmap for the school’s strategic plan, which the Governance Board completed last month.
After presenting it to the community for review and revisions, the plan will be submitted to the Fulton County Board of Education for approval before the end of the year.
One area Northview will seek flexibility is in the size of the classroom. Brannon said it is not uncommon for college students to have a mix of large group lecture classes and smaller classes, and those could easily be implemented in the high school as well.
“For example, Advance Placement Psychology could be taught like a college class in the auditorium,” said Brannon. “This would get them used to [this] type of lecture before they get to college.”
Another area of flexibility Northview will likely seek is the creation of a health sciences curriculum, possibly partnering with a local hospital to help with the instruction.
“We have a lot of seniors going into medical engineering or [other health-related areas] and having a health science curriculum would be a great concept,” said Brannon.
Other schools in North Fulton that were part of Cohort One include Abbotts Hill Elementary School, Autrey Mill Middle School, Centennial HS, Hembree Springs ES, Milton HS, Mountain Park ES, Roswell North ES and Shakerag ES.
Charter schools get governance councils
This year, the following schools will hold elections for governance councils, train those elected and begin the process of developing the strategic plan for implementation next year:
State Bridge Crossing ES
Summit Hill ES
Sweet Apple ES
Wilson Creek ES
Elkins Point MS
Webb Bridge MS
Haynes Bridge MS
Holcomb Bridge MS
River Trail MS
Taylor Road MS
Johns Creek HS