Bobby Jones’ Words Inspire Education Reform

By Andrew Lewis

The great Bobby Jones once said, “competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half-inch course — the one between your ears.”

What’s at stake is way more than a 10-foot putt. That ‘five-and-a-half-inch course between your ears’ is what determines if a child will be successful, not on a golf course, but in life.

Which is why the recent release of results for Georgia’s new grading system for public schools, the College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI), is so disturbing. Only 23% (15 out of 66 schools) of Richmond County Public Schools are operating at an academic level of “C” or greater.

Richmond County is not alone. 43% of public schools across the state failed to meet an academic level grade of “C” or higher.

Do we need further proof that too many of our children are not prepared as best they can be for higher education or the job market? The Education Trust, a well-respected national education advocacy organization, notes that nearly one in four American children are unable to pass a basic entrance exam for the armed forces.

Unless we step our game in public education, we will only continue to fail our students and their parents. They deserve better!

It’s time to do things differently in K-12 education. One way is to expand public school options and empower parents by embracing charter schools.

For families who can’t afford to move to a “better” school district, and even for families who can, charter schools empower all parents with the ability to ask one simple question; ‘What is the best academic setting for my child — the traditional zoned public school or the charter public school?’”

In Georgia, the growth of autonomous, self-governing charter public schools, that are 100% open to any child who wished to attend, has been mostly limited to the Atlanta metro area. But improved academic results are already paying big dividends for districts like Atlanta Public Schools (APS).

APS charter schools outperformed the district across all grade levels. At the elementary grade level, APS charter schools outperformed the district by 7.1 percent, by 12 percent at middle school, and 12.2 percent at high school.

APS, still stinging from the black eye of a cheating scandal, can actually point with pride to its innovative charter schools. One teaches Mandarin Chinese, another pioneers small classes of just 15 students, another uses Latin to support vocabulary development and prepare students for success in rigorous high school and college programs.

And one APS charter school uniquely offers every student the opportunity to learn in the East Lake Community of Atlanta, located on the edge of Georgia’s second most famous golf course, Robert Trent Jones’ East Lake Country Club.

Drew Charter School is the signature piece of a community revitalization effort of the East Lake Community. From the 1920’s until the 1970’s, East Lake was a community gem in Atlanta. But in the 1970’s, East Lake fell on hard times seeing poverty, crime, and high school dropouts rates spiral out of control. The famous East Lake Golf Club fell into disrepair and almost closed.

That was until community leaders from East Lake and across Atlanta joined forces to rebuild the community and establish an autonomous, self-governing charter public school as its centerpiece. That school, Drew Charter School, is now considered one of the top performing public schools in Georgia, improving the lives of countless children.

It can happen in Richmond County as well, if education leaders and citizens are

willing to place all education options on the table. Charter public schools are just one tool in the K-12 tool belt, but they are tools of reform that we must learn how to wield, to improve our public school systems in Atlanta, Augusta and all over Georgia.

If our children are going to become successful members of our community, we must help them master the ‘five-and-a-half-inch course’ between their ears.

Andrew Lewis is Executive VP of the Georgia Charter Schools Association

Weekly Charter News Roundup

Georgia Charter School News: August 23 – September 5, 2014 Labor Day Catch Up Report:
(This edition covers a two week news period)

Good press for Tapestry Charter http://bit.ly/1svIGPL;  Drew Charter HS http://bit.ly/1oMwwhY; and possible conversion of McNair HS into a charter academy in DeKalb: http://bit.ly/W6BzDf. WABE covers GCSA’s Charter School/District Collaboration Symposium http://bit.ly/1qbcWku.

State Charter Commission’s 8/27 decisions on new petitions dominate this news cycle (see our press release on the approvals http://bit.ly/VQoHAQ). Approved: Hephzibah, first autonomous charter for Augusta area http://bit.ly/YYDefD; Peach/Byron High School http://on.wmaz.com/Wlgi8z, Foothills Education Charter, a replication of successful Mountain Education Center http://bit.ly/Wc9Al2; and International Charter School of Atlantahttp://bit.ly/WoNZX4Denied: Brookhaven Innovation Academy http://bit.ly/1rPUZuD, Southwest GA STEM Academy http://bit.ly/VQoHAQ; Fulton Sunshine Academy, Fulton Science Academy ajc.com/Z0mSDe; Columbia County School for the Arts http://bit.ly/1tqZImg. Scintilla Charter (Valdosta), DuBois Academy (Clayton) and Cirrus Academy (Bibb) have until next month to provide Commission with additional material and could open in 2015-16. Fulton County declares interest in more charters http://on-ajc.com/1rq5CSo. S. DeKalb residents hear pros/cons for possible charter district http://bit.ly/1rQ0p90.

Your weekend reading:  NY Times magazine features big story on Mayor deBlasio’s head-to-head war on charters with Eva Moskowitz http://nyti.ms/Zag4TD

Sumter’s approval of Furlow Charter School helps deliver the promise of better public schools for all

By Elisa Falco

Former State Senator George Hooks of Americus (D-14th), has every reason to smile.  His courageous support for charter schools while he served in the Georgia General Assembly, has now borne fruit and his confidence in the local school board may even have been restored in the process.

Earlier this summer, the Sumter County Board of Education boldly asserted a commitment to change and innovation by voting 6-3 to approve the petition of Furlow Charter School.

The new tuition-free K-12 public school, which would open in 2015-16, has a singular mission to improve student achievement in Sumter County.  The charter school not only has to outperform other schools in the local district, it must also exceed average performance in the state.

It’s a tall order, but Furlow has a plan.  The school’s roadmap to more effective education for all children is a project-based learning approach that encourages students to think critically and be active participants in their learning.  Parent engagement and volunteerism is also a priority.

Furlow Charter School will offer a low student-to-teacher ratio, and “teacher looping,” where students have same teacher for two grades until completion of grade 5. The charter school would require four units of foreign language and fine arts plus two units of service learning. An extended day schedule will be instituted to support academic success.

The approval of Furlow will be music to the ears of Senator Hooks, a lifelong Sumter resident, who held the Senate chamber spellbound in 2012 when he boldly characterized the local schools he attended as a youth, and where his daughter teaches first grade, as being “in chaos,” and then voted in favor of the controversial Charter School Amendment.

The Georgia Charter Schools Association, which consulted with the Furlow petitioners on their charter, is grateful to Senator Hooks and views the approval of Furlow Charter School as a tremendous win for families and for education in Sumter County.  We expect that Furlow will bring students back into the Sumter system, and with them additional revenue for the County. We are confident that the charter school will be an engine for change and that the successful innovations piloted at Furlow can be implemented into the larger school district.

And we hope Senator Hooks will now see visible evidence of a return on his legislative investment in better public education.

Elisa Falco is Vice President of School Services for the Georgia Charter Schools Association.