All Georgia school systems face a deadline next month. They have to decide how they want to run their schools, and they get three choices from the state.
The first choice for school systems is the “status quo,” which means they have to follow all state mandates unless there are extenuating circumstances like a natural disaster. So far, only the Burke County school system has decided to do so.
Others are choosing between a full charter system and one that allows some flexibility from state mandates. The latter is called IE2. In exchange for signing a performance contract, systems get a release from some state rules and laws. Louis Erste is the associate superintendent for policy and charters with the state Department of Education. He says one reason some schools have selected the IE2 model is class size.
“A lot of districts during the recession the past four years have used the class size waiver, the blanket waiver that the state board has granted to be able to balance their budgets by having larger class sizes,” Erste said. “That goes away on June 30, so many are picking IE2 because it fits their system better.”
A number of other school districts are choosing to become charter systems. Schools like the DeKalb County School District and the Atlanta Public School System have told the state they intend to become charter systems. As part of that model, districts gain freedom from most state rules and laws, but they need a local governing team at every school. Those teams will make decisions about budget, personnel and curriculum. School systems also have to sign a performance contract with the state. “The best thing about districts having to choose is that in either case, whether it’s IE2 or charter system, they’re selecting a performance contract; they’re agreeing to increase student performance,” Erste said.
Angela King Smith is special assistant to the superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools. She says the Atlanta Public School District chose a charter system because it wants more parent and community engagement.
“For us, that was what was attractive and I think also scary at the same time because we’re like we know where we are with parent engagement, and there’s a huge gap in where we need to be. But we just felt like having people helping to make some of the decisions for their schools was really, really important.”
State officials say so far in metro Atlanta, about half the districts have chosen IE2. The other half of the school systems want to remain or become charter systems.