Friday, May 14, 2010

Chartering a Course for Better Education

Wednesday evening, I joined a panel presentation about a possible Charter for Chamblee Middle School. There was a large audience of parents and teachers in attendance, and they asked really, really good questions of panelists Senator Dan Weber, Georgia DOE Charter Schools Division Director Lou Erste, Sandy Spruill, who helped launch the Charter for Chamblee Magnet High School and now writes grants for Georgia Public Broadcasting, and Nicole Knighten of DeKalb Schools. I think my primary role on the panel was to a) let those parents know it's hard work but oh so worth it and b) provide a cautionary tale about how NOT to do a renewal (Establish that Charter Renewal committee as soon as the ink is dry on your approval letter!).

I had a hard time keeping quiet as the parents asked questions WE asked ourselves during Peachtree's recent Charter renewal process. (This is our third renewal, and we're on tenterhooks waiting for the DOE to say yay or nay.)

One parent asked a really good question: there are lots of good reasons to become a Charter - but what is the downside? There are two (and I actually don't consider them negatives because they engage everyone in the drive for quality education): 

  • Accountability:  Georgia's Charter law puts enormous pressure on Charter schools, whether conversion or start-up, to "put up or shut up." We're required to step far beyond our local school system in terms of innovation in instruction as well as in delivering powerful results in achievement. At Peachtree, we're focusing on closing the achievement gap among disparate populations of students. We have lots of great ideas and plenty of reasons to want that for our students. We also have set ourselves some very high goals to achieve in the next five years.
  • Consensus: What do parents and teachers want for their school? It's a long path from surveying everyone to get ideas and beliefs to arriving at a clear vision for the school's improvement.

Why should any school convert to Charter status? If  your County system is struggling, if one-size-fits-all curriculum and materials don't work for your student, if you're concerned about the quality of the education within the classroom, if you'd rather use designated funding for things that your students actually need rather than some overpriced, dumbed-down scripted product from the educational publisher du jour, and if you think volunteering at your kid's school is the most important contribution you can make to his or her education . . . yep, think about getting your school converted to Charter.

Then take it a step up. Convince all the schools in your "cluster" - elementary, middle, and high schools - to convert as a unit to a Charter Cluster school system. Together, you can individualize the curriculum and methodology for your school, work together to obtain grants and other funding, build continuity and excellence from K through 12th grade, take advantage of community resources and experts who are shut out of traditional school system models, and support local schools with a deserved and quantifiable reputation for quality.

Senator Weber says it's doable, it's needed, and it's the future of public education in our community.

I agree.


  1. Thanks for writing this blog post, Donna! I completely agree with everything you have said.

    At Chamblee High School (now Chamblee Charter High School since 2000) we knew that becoming a charter was in our future from the time Dr. Regina Merriwether (then principal at Druid Hills High School) spoke to the Dunwoody Chamblee Parents Council meeting at Kingsley Elementary (also a charter school). At the time, CHS parents and staff were so consumed by being named a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence, that there was no time or energy to devote to anything else except our primary job -- educating our students.

    At Chamblee High School we became a charter school because we wanted to Achieve Autonomy, Assume Accountability and thereby Direct our Destiny. We knew we could do better for our students -- and we did.

    I also fully agree, Donna, with your comments on a charter cluster -- and Senator Weber's thoughts as well. It is absolutely the future of successful public education in Dunwoody and in the Chamblee community.

    If you are interested in this concept and want to be notified of an informational meeting for the Chamblee community (including Chamblee Charter High School, Chamblee Middle School, and all CMS feeder schools), please send your contact information including name, phone number and e-mail address to:

  2. Great post Donna. Thanks for getting this message out. Looks like we need to start a formal campaign to get this moving forward.

  3. I'd love to see what Chamblee is doing in our own Dunwoody (see Sandy Spruill's email above). A little birdie tells me a grassroots effort is underway. Perhaps we'll hear more soon!

  4. Sandy, as a Chamblee alum, we all read and hear about the Magnet program. What I would like to have further information about is how being a Charter has helped the "non-magnet" student. From my sources at CCHS, these students seem to be an afterthought. I hope that is not true.


Thanks for sharing your thoughts - it's great to hear from you!