special thanks to the MDJ for this story…
Cobb’s chief academic officer Dr. Judith Gilliam listed countless reasons why she couldn’t support the charter school that Arlington, Va.-based Imagine Schools would manage.
Dr. Gilliam said her greatest concern has to do with school’s compliance with the new Georgia Performance Standards.
“It’s the curriculum alignment to the Georgia Performance Standards. We hold our own schools absolutely responsible for teaching the standards. The standards are what they’re tested on. If we don’t hold them responsible for teaching the standards then you’re handicapping a child when it comes to the CRCT test,” Dr. Gilliam said, referring to the state’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, the exam that plays a critical role in determining if schools meet federal No Child Left Behind mandates.
But it’s not just curriculum alignment that’s a problem with the charter, she said.
“As we read the charter petition, there were concerns that came in several categories. One was curriculum. There is no, what the charter law calls ‘unique and distinctive’ charter. It is modeled on one that we’ve already passed, so it’s not unique and distinctive,” Dr. Gilliam said.
Imagine officials counter that the school would be infused with an environmental science curriculum unlike any other in Cobb.
Other problems, Dr. Gilliam said, include no media services plan, no unique technology plan, a lack of services for special needs students, budget problems, legal concerns over who runs the school and problems with teachers being highly qualified.
Dr. Gilliam referenced the elementary charter school that Imagine runs in Kennesaw, called Kennesaw Charter Elementary.
“Based on the track record of Kennesaw Charter Elementary we have seven teachers they have reported not being highly qualified, so we have concerns. We want to continue to work with them to have highly qualified teachers for the middle school,” Dr. Gilliam said.
Imagine officials dispute Dr. Gilliam’s charges.
School board attorney Sylvia Eaves, a member of the Marietta firm Brock Clay Calhoun & Rogers, said Kennesaw Charter Elementary has run afoul of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.
A parent of a special needs child at the school filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights when her child allegedly failed to receive services the child was entitled to, Ms. Eaves said. The complaint was only resolved when the parent transferred her child out of the school, Ms. Eaves said.
Ms. Eaves said she is concerned about that incident because the Office for Civil Rights holds the Cobb School District responsible in such cases.
“It’s the school district that is ultimately responsible for that,” Ms. Eaves said.
Noticeably absent from the one-hour meeting in the district’s central office, was Cobb Superintendent Fred Sanderson, even though he was in the building.
Asked why he didn’t attend, Sanderson said he had other business to attend to.
After the meeting, Cobb school board member Betty Gray said more discussion would likely need to occur between Imagine and Cobb administrators before she could advise the board to vote for or against the charter.
“I’m very serious when we’re spending taxpayer dollars that we have all data substantiated by accurate reporting,” Ms. Gray said.
If approved, the middle school would be the fifth Imagine school in the Cobb and Marietta school systems.
Imagine operates an elementary school in Kennesaw and one in Marietta. It is scheduled to open two kindergarten-through-eighth-grade schools in Mableton and Smyrna on July 30.
Julie Merendino of Kennesaw, a parent who’s petitioning for the middle school charter in Kennesaw, said Thursday’s meeting was worthwhile.
“It’s kind of like a poker game. They have their poker faces on, I guess you could say,” said Ms. Merendino, who has two sons attending Kennesaw Charter School and a daughter who attends North Cobb High School.
Ms. Merendino said she appreciates the fact that board members took the meeting seriously enough to bring in Sanderson’s top brass.
“To me, that says a lot that they’re willing to work with us, and that they’re bringing in their big guns to address concerns and let us know specifics, and I feel that is very positive,” she said.