Why did Fulton County Schools consider becoming a Charter System?
In 2008, lawmakers provided school districts with three options for management frameworks. By June 2015*, every school system in Georgia must decide whether it will become:
an IE2 (Investing in Excellence in Education) system,
a charter system, or
publicly acknowledge it is content with its current status of operation under the rules, processes and practices of the Georgia Department of Education.
After exploring the merits of the IE2 (Investing in Excellence in Education) system the Fulton County Board of Education determined it is more interested in the Charter System model. After gathering significant community input, it was determined that such a reform model was warranted and worth thoughtful consideration.
* Previously June 2013
Where can I find out more information?
The initial Fall 2010 community forum presentation on this website and other documents outline the basic concepts and characteristics of a charter system under Georgia law. In addition, this website includes links to the State Charter System Advisory Committee website which provides detailed information on the state law and other Georgia Charter systems. All publicly presented documents during this process are also on this website at this link.
What was the purpose of the Charter System Forums?
The purpose of the community forums was to listen to parents and school staff about how we could enhance student achievement. This information informed the Board of Education about whether waivers from state law will help us improve student achievement. Even if the Board had chosen not to pursue a Charter System, this information empowered our system to better support student achievement at our schools.
Who else provided input?
Additionally, we have gathered input from current and former students and examined other large school systems across the nation that are implementing systemic innovations linked to improved student achievement. These investigations would help our system improve regardless of which of the three alternatives the Fulton County Board of Education ultimately chose.
* * *
Why do we want to change the way we operate?
There are always opportunities to improve. Fulton County Schools has demonstrated this in a number of ways and has received a great deal of national recognition for our innovative processes, including recognition by the Harvard Business School for our use of the Balanced Scorecard, by the American Productivity and Quality Center for our data-based decision-making, by the SAP corporation for our integration of data and operational efficiency, and by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) for being the first school system in the country to receive district-wide accreditation.
The Community Forums and Town Halls provided the Board of Education an opportunity to hear from stakeholders about how we can better serve our students. It may be that freedom and flexibility from state laws will allow us to better implement these ideas. This is what the Board asked staff to explore during this process.
Why do we need/or want to look at becoming a charter system when we can just implement improvement opportunities and remain as we are?
We needed to establish if the best improvement opportunities (as identified by staff, stakeholders, and research) can be implemented without waivers from state law. A large part of the charter exploration process is community engagement. The system continues to hear from a wide audience of staff, parents, and the community regarding ideal qualities of a school and ideas for improvements. Community input is vital because it ultimately guided the Fulton County Board of Education in determining if many of the improvement opportunities require a charter system agreement with the state, or whether the ideas may be implemented without a charter agreement.
Additionally, a potential benefit of either IE2 or charter system status would be Fulton County Schools’ ability to limit the impact of future legislation that might distract our schools from their foci on student performance and organization effectiveness.
What are the next steps?
The charter application details changes in our system and how these changes will better empower our local schools to improve student achievement. A draft of the proposal was subject to additional community forums, intensive expert review, and substantial adjustments before it was voted upon by the Fulton County Schools Board of Education and submitted to the state for approval.
As mentioned, the district submitted its formal application on December 1, 2011. If it is approved, charter system status would not go into effect until the 2012-13 school year.
How will changes in state leadership (impact charter system)?
Given that the charter system legislation is a state law, not simply a program mandated by a state agency or the governor’s office, etc., it would require the entire state legislature to repeal or revise the charter system law. As of this writing, there is no indication that the recent elections will have a direct impact on the June 2015 deadline.
What are the achievement levels of the Georgia systems that are already “charter systems”?
Below is the listing of operating charter systems and the dates they began operating as a charter system.
City Schools of Decatur - August 2008
Gainesville City Schools – August 2008
Marietta City Schools – August 2008
Warren County Schools – August 2008
Cartersville City Schools – July 2010
Floyd County Charter System – July 2010
Putnam County Schools – July 2010
The Georgia Department of Education has compiled a summary of the currently existing charter systems’ practices. The entire report is available online at the Georgia Department of Education website.
However, given the small number, size, and early developmental stages of the Georgia charter systems, it is perhaps more useful to examine the operations of similarly sized systems who have been implementing successful innovations for longer periods of time. We identified three systems for further study: Boston Public Schools, Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, and Clark County Schools (Las Vegas). Additionally, the Fulton County Schools Exploring Charter System website identifies three national organizations who offer in-depth reports and analysis on system reform processes.
Since every state has different educational laws, it is difficult to identify systems with similar state waivers options. But it is possible to examine if the practices in place would require a waiver were the system operating in Georgia and if such practices are successful.
How much flexibility will a charter system give?
The specific levels and types of flexibility we are pursuing are defined by the Fulton County Board of Education in the charter system application. The community forums provided the Board with information to determine what flexibility is needed at our schools and at the system level that more effectively support student achievement. Public hearings on the petition later provided detailed information on the proposed levels and types of flexibility.
If we can't do anything about No Child Left Behind, Adequate Yearly Progress, and Georgia Performance Standards, then how do we make our charter truly worthwhile?
While we are still accountable for our students mastering the Georgia curriculum, we could have greater flexibility in how we organize the curriculum and the methods used to instruct students. In addition, the Fulton County Board of Education has two goals for Student Achievement – “Students Master the Curriculum”, which is Georgia-based, but also “Students are Nationally Competitive.” The Fulton County curriculum is more rigorous than the state requirements as are Fulton's performance measures and targets. A charter system may provide the flexibility from various aspects of state law (Title 20) to accelerate the rate of that improvement.
(Upon) what standards (state vs. national) will waivers be based?
Standards are not waived. However, laws, regulations, and processes may be waived. The charter system alternative allows for the waiver of state law (Title 20) and related Georgia Department of Education rules and practices. The federal government expressly forbids federal law from being waived.
How will flexibility of funding be determined?
Fulton County Schools’ current revenue sources and funding practices of the Georgia legislature will not be changed by becoming a charter system. What might be changed is the local schools’ authority to decide how resources are best allocated within each school following certain guidelines. This flexibility, of course, will still have to follow federal law. Interest in that kind of flexibility is being discussed and gathered via the community forums and website entries.
(What will be) the amount of state funds for Fulton County Schools if (it is) a charter system?
There might be an opportunity for some small, incremental increase in state funding levels (approximately $100/student), but that is not confirmed at this time. This would require appropriation by the Georgia legislature.
How will the county address the potential loss of funds if current charter schools decide not to join the county charter?
There will be no “loss of funds” if current charter schools elect to continue under their current charter contract. Current charter schools are funded using the same state and local formula as typical schools. They do not receive additional funding, although charters sometimes qualify for a two year federal implementation grant. Fulton County Schools does not receive additional funding based on the number of students enrolled in individual charter schools nor would it lose funding under a charter system.
How is charter system different from the other options?
Under the IE2 model, school systems operate under a five-year performance contract which defines state specified waivers. Local school decision-making authority is not required in this model. Individual schools within a system may decide to not participate in the IE2 contract. Consequences for poor performance would include the imposition of a state defined governance system at the local school and the system’s loss of governance over that school.
Under a Charter System, there is also a five-year performance contract which identifies particular waivers from state law and requires the system to describe the specific practices that will be used in the system and/or schools. All Fulton County Schools would be: (1) included in system-wide waivers, (2) allowed to choose specific waivers in some cases, and (3) able to apply for additional waivers. A consistent expectation found in the charter system alternative is meaningful decision-making authority for governing bodies at the local schools. All schools participate in the system (with the exception of current charter schools), and may fine tune their own levels of flexibility. The consequence for poor performance is reverting to non-charter system status for the system.
The Georgia Department of Education has published a more detailed, comparison table on the three options on its website.
Why did Forsyth and Gwinnett go with IE2?
Leaders in both systems believed that the central-driven reform model of IE2 was the best fit for their system’s culture and goals.
How was IE2 excluded already?
IE2 was not excluded at the outset of this exploration process. However, the system did decide to more fully investigate the charter alternative. It requires a larger and more time-consuming level of community input during the investigation process and offers the greatest amount of flexibility.
The state does not require local community input during the investigation stages of IE2. That being said, Fulton County Schools did conduct a cross functional team investigation which included parents and staff. We also conducted several staff discussions. Preliminary feedback indicated that IE2 offers lower levels of local leadership, less flexibility in the number and scope of waivers as well as a potentially fragmented application and enforcement structure.
How are other systems sorting out IE2?
To our knowledge the other metro systems have not made their processes public at this time.
What authority will move to local school councils? Who will determine members of local governance/council?
The scope of authority of charter governing bodies described in charter law is different than the authority described in the Local School Council law. Local School Councils are purely advisory, and have responsibilities to review data and school plans, as well as advise the principal. There will be different processes and expectations of the governing body than what LSACs currently follow.
However, before the authority levels of local charter governing bodies can be designed, their responsibilities must be clearly articulated. To discover which roles the governing bodies should perform, we continue to gather input from the local communities and researching other high performing systems in the nation. After understanding this information, a well thought-out draft of the governing structure, which would include timelines, membership, selection processes, training requirements, and decision-making authority, was published in the charter proposal for community review and feedback.
Where is funding coming from to train school level governing boards?
The level and costs of training required would be based on the roles and implementation timelines for the governing boards. These would be developed based upon the community input. We currently have staff who provide training for existing Local School Advisory Councils and Charter Governing Boards. How job descriptions, staffing and funding levels would be altered if the system were to approve a system charter would be incorporated in any charter system proposal and would be open to public review and comment.
If my school is doing well, do we have to change?
If the school system is approved as a Charter System, all schools that are not currently charter schools would be part of the Charter System and would need to implement any system-wide waivers and innovations that are included. However, the local governing body would be allowed to choose whether or not to apply for additional waivers specific to their school.
How will a Charter System improve education in South Fulton schools? What will be the impact for South Fulton schools? How will the charter system improve the disparities in the current system? How will we be able to ensure all students in Fulton County get a quality education in a Charter System? How will a Charter system improve our children’s test scores?
At this point, the Charter System is just a concept. It is not a specific set of waivers or interventions. It is certainly the intent that the Charter System interventions would close achievement gaps while increasing achievement for all students. However, there is a growing body of national research that becoming a charter, of itself, does not improve student achievement. Effective interventions improve student achievement. Through our community input forum we will continue to consider which interventions, programs, or improvements are desired. Then we will determine if these require waiver from state law. The Board of Education determined that it wished to fully pursue Charter System status in June 2011. At that point, specific aspects of our Charter System were be presented for discussion.
What are legalities of mandating home visits and parental involvement? How do we implement Parental Contracts?
There are legal limits to the consequences of parental noncompliance and the legalities of all charter system concepts would be vetted by both the Fulton County Schools and Georgia Department of Education attorneys. If any such concepts were part of system wide practices within the system contract, every effort would be made to educate the community about the importance of support for such concepts.
How do we get parents more involved if it were a requirement?
There are many practices available to increase parental support and involvement. A charter system might implement some of these practices at every school and might allow individual schools to fine tune practices to more effectively meet the needs of the parents and students at that particular school. Interest in that kind of flexibility is being discussed and gathered via the community forums and website entries.
Does the entire county have to use the same curriculum?
The entire state is required to meet the performance standards outlined in the Georgia Performance Standards (GPS). Under federal law (No Child Left Behind) each student is assessed on his/her understanding of those standards through the Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT), the End-of-Course Tests (EOCT) or the Georgia High School Graduation Test (GHSGT). Therefore, every system in Georgia has to prepare students to succeed on the mandated state assessments using the GPS and must teach the same base state curriculum.
However, the system can offer a course of study more rigorous than the base state curriculum. A system may add additional courses and areas of study. Under a charter system, there might be interest in enhancing the state base curriculum in specific ways. That kind of interest is being gathered via the community forums and website entries.
Can teachers have input on the selection and decisions related to school calendar?
Changes to the school calendar could impact teacher contracts, operating expenses, testing schedules, transportation, and curriculum pacing, just to name a few areas. These factors would all require a thoughtful and careful process to examine and approve local changes to the calendar. Interest in that kind of flexibility is being discussed and gathered via the community forums and website entries. However, due to the potential operations and financial impact, the decision to grant local school waivers in this area would have to be carefully considered by the Fulton County Board of Education.
What options do parents have? How will students be able to move throughout the system to meet their needs?
Fulton County Schools currently provides a number of options for students to attend schools outside their attendance zone. These are detailed in Policy JBCD, Transfers and Withdrawals. A Charter System does not imply additional choice or the absence of attendance zones. We will review community input from the charter system forums to determine if there is strong desire for additional school choice and if so, report that to the Board of Education for consideration.
Will open enrollment guidelines now in place remain?
At this point, the Board of Education has had no discussion about restricting or reducing the open enrollment guidelines currently in place.
How will it be decided which students go where? Will there be lotteries for attendance/enrollment? Will transportation still be provided if out of your attendance zone?
The Charter System legislation in no way requires additional school choice or the absence of attendance zones. Students can still be geographically assigned to a “home” school with transportation provided only to that school. The input from the community in the Charter System Forums will be evaluated to determine if there is greater demand for school choice than what current Fulton County Schools policy allows. The Board of Education has been clear that any innovations requiring additional costs will be evaluated very cautiously. Transportation of students beyond a geographically assigned attendance zone would an innovation with substantial costs associated.
Will we be able to reorganize our cluster so that only feeder schools go to the cluster high schools?
Given the average size of our middle schools, it is not possible to have them all feed 100% to a high school because the high schools would be either far below or over capacity. Even under a charter system we will still have groups of students splitting between elementary to middle school and between middle to high school.
How do you understand what your cluster schools want to do? (Ahead of time)
The processes required to implement local school governance decisions, and to coordinate such decisions among clusters, will require time to implement. Therefore it is unlikely that any such provisions would be put into effect during the first year of the charter system. By implementing them over time we can assure that clusters are involved in school decisions where necessary.
What are some downsides to becoming a charter system? Can this be rolled out in small segments? Is this more work?
Any systemic change brings a learning curve. Since the Board of Education has elected to pursue Charter System status it will be important to phase in the components gradually to ensure the change does not disrupt system operations and to ensure clear communication and understanding among system staff at all levels and among the community. How these might be phased in will be based upon the input we continue to receive and were be clearly outlined in a draft charter proposal for further community comment prior to submitting the charter system application in December 2011.
What impact will there be on sports programs?
The charter system would not necessitate any changes to sports or other extra-curricular activities. If significant suggestions for revisions to sports programs emerge from the charter system forums and ongoing discussions, these could be considered.
Is the Las Vegas (Clark County Schools) model something we will consider adopting?
There are aspects of all three of the identified school systems that the Board of Education might consider, including the one in Las Vegas. The exact elements will be determined in light of the charter system forum input.
Who were part of the focus groups and decisions about the charter system process?
The small groups that provided input prior to the forums in 2010 simply asked questions and offered comments that led to a more detailed and coherent presentation on the charter system concept.
Time-frame: is it do-able?
The process in place allowed for considerable time for community input both before a charter system decision was made by the Board. Fulton finalized and submitted its petition in December of 2011, well ahead of the state’s June of 2015 deadline for a decision on charter system status [previously June, 2013]. Should Fulton's charter system application be approved, the district would only then begin work phased in over a 5-year period. This would allow plenty of time for a thoughtful and well-planned implementation.
How will teacher assistants & their salaries be affected by charter school system implementation? How will teachers & staff be affected by implementation of charter school system (including salary, benefits, etc?)
Changes to salary and benefits are not required under a charter system. However, it is possible to waive the state salary scales and use different criteria for salary levels under a charter system. The Fulton County Board of Education has not discussed this. The input from the charter system forums will be evaluated to determine if there is strong interest in changing the salary structure.
Do you have to join a teachers union?
Georgia is a "Right to Work" state and teachers are not required to join any union.
If we become a charter system, will teachers be given opportunity to transfer? Would we have to reapply for our jobs? Will staff start fresh?
The charter system law does not require that schools “reconstitute” with new staff, or that staff be moved among schools or reapply for positions. There is no indication that a charter system would not start off with staff in current assignments. The charter system input from forums and other public discussions will be considered to see if there is significant interest in additional transfer or movement of staff among schools.
Can you get rid of tenure?
Georgia does not have "tenure" for K-12 teachers in the same way that university professors would have tenure. However, K-12 teachers, after a number or years, are protected by the Fair Dismissal Act which gives certain procedural rights including a hearing to determine whether a recommended termination is appropriate. Under a charter system the district could explore whether to waive state statutory provisions, including the Fair Dismissal Act.
What standards (state vs. national) will waivers be based on?
Only state laws can be waived. The majority of these are covered under Title 20. Some state laws are not eligible for waiver including the following:
Brief Period of Quiet Reflection
Open and Public Meetings/ Inspection of Public Records
State Assessments (CRCT, Writing, Georgia High School Graduation Test, End-of-Course Tests)
Federal laws cannot be waived under the Charter System.
Can we bring International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum to Fulton County Schools? How do we get the international baccalaureate program offered in North Fulton county?
Riverwood International Charter High School in Sandy Springs currently offers the IB diploma. Ridgeview Charter in Sandy Springs is a middle school approved for the IB Middle Years Programme. Both of these are long-standing Fulton County public schools that have become conversion charters. It does not require establishment of a Charter System for more schools to become IB schools. However, it is a time-intensive and expensive endeavor that would require Board of Education approval.
If theme schools are developed, how will students be affected?
The Georgia Charter System legislation does not require that each school in a charter system have a distinguishing “theme.” This would not necessarily be a part of our charter system should we decide to move forward. We will review the community input to determine if “theme schools” are desired by our community. Even if schools adopted a “theme” it would not necessarily mean more school choice. We could still have geographic attendance zones with students assigned to one school.
Who wrote the district's charter application?
The Board of Education determined internal staff would write the application after it voted to submit a Charter System petition in June 2011. The district's application was submitted in December 2011 and is available to view on this website.
As the Charter System remains under the control and management of the local Board of Education, what will be different for local schools?
If the school system becomes a charter system, the Board of Education may require that all schools implement innovative practices through waivers from state law. In addition, local school governance teams can be given authority to exercise waivers and to make decisions in specific areas that are determined through the charter application.
What will constitute success of the Charter System? How will the charter system be measured? What is system level accountability under the Charter System?
The charter petition would include specific areas for performance improvement and measureable results that would be targeted over the five years of the charter contract. The school system is accountable to the state for achieving these results. These would constitute success for the charter system.
What determines failure of the Charter system?
The state Board of Education would determine if the charter system fails to sufficiently achieve its performance results. The system could also fail to properly implement the waivers and innovations it requested. However, over the course of the five year contract the waivers and performance targets can be re-negotiated and revised based upon the realities of the charter implementation.
What are the details of the five-year contract with the state?
After the Board of Education decided to move forward with the charter system application process, all the details developed were made available for community comment. The application and supporting documents remain available on this website for public view.
What happens after the five-year contract if charter system is deemed successful?
The Fulton County Board of Education would submit a charter system renewal petition requesting continuation and enhancement of the charter system contract.
What happens after the five-year contract if charter system is deemed unsuccessful? Based on failure consequence under the Charter System. What is our current status i.e. Return to Current Status?
If the Georgia Board of Education deems the charter system has been unsuccessful, the school system would revert to non-charter status and operate according to state laws and regulations. This is what is meant by “current status”, operating under the state laws and regulations.
Can Fulton County lose its accreditation if the charter system fails and if so who would takes over the system?
Accreditation from SACS/CASI is a separate process from the charter system. Accreditation is based upon specific quality standards that the school system would continue to adhere to with or without charter system status.
What is broad flexibility under the Charter System? Please give examples.
Broad flexibility refers to the ability to waive most aspects of state education law. This is commonly referred to as a “blanket waiver.” The initial Charter System presentation on our website provides several specific examples of the types of practices that can be waived. These include, but are not limited to seat time in courses, class size, teacher certification requirements, requirements for course credit and other practices.
What is school level accountability and how does it affect the school’s accountability for the No Child Left Behind act? I.e. AYP, GHSGT, EOCT, etc.
School accountability would not change a result of Charter System status. Schools would continue to be accountable.