by Candy Waylock; Northfulton.com
September 25, 2012 NORTH FULTON, Ga. — Nine schools in North Fulton will take their first step toward increased local control in the coming months as they prepare to elect school governance councils to guide them through the process.
While this group of nine schools will be first to install governance councils, every school in the Fulton County School System will undergo the transition over the next five years, installing governance councils to oversee the operations of the school.
This year, the Fulton School System became the state's largest charter school system, with the goal of providing each school the flexibility to develop programs and processes free from many local and state requirements.
Under a charter system, overall governance will remain with the elected Fulton Board of Education, which still must approve any waivers requested by each individual school. Any policies adopted by the board must be followed system-wide. However, school-specific plans will be developed by the governance councils at each school, depending on each school's needs and goals.
Schools may seek flexibility in areas such as "seat time," class sizes and teacher credentials if it can assure the school board that such changes will increase student achievement.
In this first year of the five-year, renewable charter, Fulton Schools will focus on developing school governance councils for 20 schools, referred to as "Cohort 1" schools, which is the first step in seeking changes at the local school level.
"These schools will be a model for others to observe as they elect students, parents, teachers and staff and community members to serve on their governance councils," said Susan Hale, a spokesperson for Fulton Schools. "Elections for the Cohort 1 schools will be held in [November-December], and training for members will occur in the winter."
In North Fulton, Cohort 1 schools include Abbotts Hill Elementary School, Hembree Springs ES, Mountain Park ES, Roswell North ES, Shakerag ES, Autrey Mill Middle School, Centennial High School, Milton HS and Northview HS.
Fulton officials noted these early advocates of the charter system opportunities are poised to begin work.
"We've worked closely with the Cohort 1 principals and they are enthusiastic and excited about the opportunity," said Ken Zeff, chief of strategy and innovation for Fulton Schools. "And we, as a system, are excited to give the schools the tools to help them manage this process. It will be a busy month, but we feel we are well positioned to launch these governance councils."
Fulton School officials recognize that not every school is in the same position to start seeking changes under the format a charter system allows. For that reason, there is a three-year rollout to support schools in the transition, with the goal that every school must have a governance council in place by the 2015-2016 school year.
While similar in structure, the governance council and the local school advisory councils (LSACs) — currently in place in every school — have distinct differences. LSACs are advisory only, with the principal and staff making the final decisions. Governing councils have the power to implement programs and chart direction for the school.
Governing councils are comprised of the principal, teachers and staff, parents and community members. The make-up of the councils will be balanced to ensure that no one entity has more power than the other.