Meeting Minutes, October 16, 2013

Emory LaVista Parent Council
October 16, 2013
Hawthorne Elementary School

Charter Clusters
Speakers:
Scott Holcomb--Representative to Georgia Legislature District 81
David Shutten—President, DeKalb County Educators
Matt Lewis—Organizer, Druid Hills Charter Cluster
Cheryl Namis—City of Dectur Schools
Cathleen Mathers—Education Specialist
Trenton Arnold—Region 3 Area Superintendent and leader for Charter System investigation
Moderator: Faye Andresen

Matt Lewis—Druid Hills Charter Cluster (DHCC), if approved will be the state’s second charter cluster. Another charter cluster was just approved in the City of Atlanta. DHCC would be the first conversion charter to take existing schools (5 elementary, 1 middle and 1 high). DHCC would like waivers from some rule to enable them to commit to higher achievement. Failure to meet the requirements of the charter for two years can result in the loss of the charter. The revenue stream for the charter cluster would stay the same and other schools in the district would not be affected. All 7 schools in the cluster were involved in organizing and creating the petition. The petition is available on line www.druidhillscluster.org Academic achievement is evaluated by current testing and other forms of assessment.

Scott Holcomb—In 2005 a law was adopted to allow high school charter clusters. Conversion to a charter cluster is significant. His thoughts on charters are mixed. Charters generally perform the same or a little lower than traditional schools. But they can do very well when the community is very supportive. The charter cluster movement hints at some of the nagging questions in DeKalb. Is the system too big? Do we need more local control? DeKalb County School District (DCSD) is much better today than one year ago. The DHCC vote on seeking the charter petition was problematic. The Op-Ed piece in the AJC had a lot of good pints, but may not affect the outcome of the petition. But it may affect whether the process seems fair and open. We want full buy in from the community.

Cheryl Namis—City of Decatur is a separate system with its own tax base. It is a conversion system; the whole system became charter, not individual schools. There are a lot of benefits from charter cluster that already existed in Decatur because it is a small system. Each school in Decatur has a school leadership team with parents and teachers that oversees governance. Parents are involved in interviewing new teachers. But charter status didn’t change as much as they had hoped. Waivers and flexibility haven’t taken place as much as intended. Federal accountability won’t change. MAP test—used extensively by Decatur. Its mission is to take every student to the next level and MAP is a way to measure that. It is a computer based test taken during a class period. The school gets the data right away. There are national norms used for a formative assessment to influence instruction. MAP is used for K-11th grade in reading, math and language. It has been a valuable tool for learning as opposed to measurement. All school leaders can all be together in one place and work together. The focus is on observing teachers and giving intensified feedback. This works because of the system’s small size. Decatur recently renewed the charter because they think it is of value.

David Shutten—He lives in the cluster. He has many questions. He is concerned that the organizing process moved fast and left many questions. He is concerned about the overall impact on the other 95,000 students in DCSD. There are questions about the 97% of the per student funding that will go to the charter cluster. How is it monitored? How is it limited? Ninety-eight percent of the people who live in the charter area did not get to vote on the proposal. Less than 1000 people voted (some people had multiple votes because of different statuses as parent, teacher, etc). 50,000 people live in the neighborhood covered by the charter. Parents and teachers were able to vote but residents without children in the public schools were not. The vote took place for 4 hours at one site with limited public transportation. He would like to see the breakdown of votes by each attendance area plus people who live outside the attendance area but who were able to vote.
How will the charter cluster operate without a central office? Who will oversee Title 1 and IDEA? There is not enough time for DHCC to do everything it has promised. And the waivers don’t match the promises. The impact on media specialists and counselors is unclear. He is concerned about the track record of charters and special education. Around the country, special education kids are told that they can’t be served by charter schools. The petition has promises but not safeguards. He is concerned about the future when the current board moves on. Concerns about conflicts of interest. In other states, charters have been vehicles for corruption. Will DHCC be subject to section 501 of the Public Records Act? What will happen to the county if other communities (Dunwoody, Tucker, Chamblee) all do this?

Trenton Arnold—All districts in Georgia have to decide on several options by 2015. The State presented 6 options for school districts:
• IE2—investing in educational excellence
• Strategic School Systems
• Charter Schools
• Charter Clusters
• Charter System
• Status Quo

All options have to do with waivers, governance, etc. DCSD will be forming a steering committee to make a decision on which structure to use.

Cathleen Mathers—Worked in education for 20 years. Served as the director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. Community engagement and parental buy in is critical to charters. The flexibility of charters is very important. The State has 181 school districts. They are trying to be thoughtful about one size not fitting all.

Questions and Answers:
Q: Elections and votes
A: Different process for a vote by DHCC and a regular election. DHCC followed the law for charter cluster votes.
Q: Parent involvement?
A: There are lots of way to general parental involvement. In DHCC there is grass roots parental involvement from all 7 schools. All 7 schools will either succeed or fail together. It doesn’t matter which neighborhood a school is in.
Q: What is the timing of the process for DCSD?
A: The State website has presentations given to each county and deadlines. June 30, 2015 is the final deadline for DCSD to inform the state which of the six plans it will pursue. It is a lengthy process that encompasses multiple divisions.
Q: How many Title 1 schools are in DHCC?
A: Five
Q: Redistricting? Changes?
A: Charters are for five years. During that time, there can’t be changes in the district lines. If DHCC fails to accomplish its stated objectives, the charter can be revoked early or not renewed after 5 years. There is interplay between innovation of charters but the long term planning of the system and a safety net.
Q: How will teachers be judged?
A: There is State law about teacher and administrator evaluations. This law includes charters. DHCC has a grievance policy that complies with state law.
Q: How does this affect SPLOST and changes in population?
A: SPLOST has no impact on charter facilities. Attendance zones won’t change. If there is additional capacity in the charter cluster, spots will be open to the rest of the county by lottery. Within the cluster, there is a choice between different elementary schools. DCSD will continue to provide the charter cluster with buildings, buses, administrative services, food services. DHCC will pay for these services at a price per student.
Q: How can DHCC be inclusive of the community and county as well as it’s own students and parents? Are there paid people on staff?
A: Teachers, administrators and a CFO will be paid. The DHCC Board and school leadership teams will be volunteer.
Q: Who pays for building maintence?
A: DCSD will own and maintain the buildings. DHCC will pay to use them.
Q: Druid Hills High School used to be a charter schools. Why did this change?
A: Druid Hills High School has block scheduling. This used to make it necessary for them to be a charter school. DCSD changed its policy so Druid Hills didn’t need to be a charter to have block scheduling.