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School board OK’s charters

Concerns expressed by school board members about the conversion charter for Cairo High School have apparently been addressed and members of the Grady County Board of Education, without any discussion, voted unanimously Tuesday morning to approve the charter as well as the proposed conversion charter for Shiver Elementary School.
“Questions and concerns were expressed by the board and Cairo High School’s consultant (Russ Moore) made revisions to the proposed charter last Friday,” Grady County School Superintendent Dr. Tommy Pharis said.
During the special called meeting at 7:30 Tuesday morning, the superintendent made the recommendation to approve the charters as presented. In two separate votes, the board unanimously approved the two documents.
The charters will now be submitted to the Georgia Department of Education’s Charter School Division for approval. According to Dr. Pharis, the Charter School Division will either recommend approval of the charters to the State Board of Education, or they will send the documents back for recommended revisions.
“This is not a done deal by any means,” Dr. Pharis said. However, the superintendent is not anticipating many, if any, revisions from the state.
Among the changes made last week to the charter document for Cairo High School was clarity on the frequency of meetings by the new governing board of the school.
The charter has been revised to indicate the governing board will meet “regularly.” In prior versions, the charter stipulated the board would meet monthly and, in another reference, it stated the board would meet a minimum of six times per year.
Another issue board members raised was a concern that credit earned by Pre-AP students at Washington Middle School would not receive credit at the high school under the conversion to a College and Career Academy.
“This is not the case. This charter is designed to increase opportunities for students, not decrease them. Another concern was if the number of Carnegie units required to graduate would be increased. Nothing in this charter would result in increasing the number of Carnegie units to graduate,” Dr. Pharis said.
In another section of the charter it stipulates the high school would provide supplemental services, such as tutoring, both during the school day and after school, if needed. The members of the Grady County Board of Education requested the charter reflect the caveat that only “if funds are available.” According to Dr. Pharis, the board did not want to be required to increase revenue to provide these services.
Under the waivers sought through the charter application, the charter originally stated the high school would be exempt from all Grady County Board of Education policies and procedures. Under the revised language, the high school, should the charter be approved by the state, would use Grady County policies and procedures as a starting point and would have the flexibility to modify as needed.
Struck from the charter was wording that the high school principal could be given a multiyear employment contract. Dr. Pharis says state law already provides for school systems to offer administrators multiyear contracts, but he said that CHS Principal David McCurry suggested the wording be removed to prevent any perception of personal gain.
Under the conversion charter, the high school’s governing board could extend the school day. Board members expressed concerns about a provision in the charter that transportation would be provided by the school board. According to Dr. Pharis, the charter now states that transportation will be provided during the regular instructional year. Any extended time would have to be funded through resources of Cairo High School, which would be eligible for private funding through its nonprofit corporation.
Wording was also tweaked to make clear that the principal of the high school would be accountable to the elected board of education.
Consultant Moore rejected a suggestion that a Grady County Board of Education member be named an ex-officio director of the proposed governing board. Moore said the state had rejected that in two other charter applications in the last month.
According to Moore, the school board is represented by the superintendent and the high school principal, who both serve as ex-officio members of the board.
In accordance with the revised charter, the school’s governing board will be comprised of 11 members. Of that total, four will be teachers nominated by the high school faculty; three members will be nominated by presidents and boards of directors of Southwest Georgia Technical College, Bainbridge College and Thomas University as representatives of post-secondary education; one member who is an employer and a high school parent, but not an employee of the board of education or any college partner, will be selected by the high school principal; one employer will be nominated by the board of directors of the Cairo-Grady County Chamber of Commerce; one employer/member will be nominated by the Grady County Joint Development Authority; and one member, who is an employer, will be nominated by the University of Georgia Archway Partnership.
According to Moore, the majority of the board must be employers to satisfy requirements for the state’s certification process for College and Career Academies.
The charter allows for as many as nine ex-officio members of the governing board including the high school principal, the Grady County school superintendent, the presidents of Southwest Georgia Technical College, Bainbridge College and Thomas University; the executive director(s) of the Cairo-Grady County Chamber of Commerce and the Grady County Joint Development Authority; the Archway Professional; and one CHS junior and one CHS senior to be nominated by the principal and approved by the governing board.
The identified goals of the charter for Cairo High School are to reduce the local dropout rate; increase the high school graduation rate; increase the percentage of eligible students earning post-secondary credits through dual enrollment with any college partner; increase the number of students earning academic credit by passing CTAE courses with embedded academic standards and passing the end of course test; and increase the number of students engaged in work-based learning.
Should the state approve the high school’s conversion charter for the College and Career Academy, Cairo High School would be the first in the state to implement a total school conversion.
According to CHS Principal David McCurry, other schools are either partial school college and career academies or a school within a school or regional academies that serve several schools from one location.
Cairo High School is one of four finalists for the College and Career Academy capital outlay grants. Local school officials will make a presentation to the Technical College System of Georgia in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 13.
The Georgia General Assembly has appropriated $10 million, which will either be split between the four finalists or awarded to the top three systems.
In addition to Cairo High School, the other finalists include Madison County, Henry County and Bartow County.
According to Dr. Pharis, the capital outlay grants will be awarded in December. The school superintendent could not predict when the state board of education would act on the high school’s proposed conversion charter.
The board’s unanimous vote Tuesday morning follows votes by the faculties and parents of both Shiver and Cairo High School to approve the proposed charters.
Under the Shiver charter, the governing board would include four parents, two faculty members and the principal of the school.
The Shiver school personnel wrote the school’s charter without the aide of a consultant, according to Principal Patsy Clark. Clark organized a Charter Steering Committee to craft the charter.
If approved, the steering committee will appoint the members of the governing board, who will serve staggered terms. Subsequent directors would be elected by parents, staff, administrators and community leaders.
Those working on the charter in addition to Principal Clark were Assistant Principal Kevin Strickland, Instructional Coordinator Carol Leigh, Kaye Lamar, Tami Thompson, Elisha Butler, Jodi Brooks, Wanda Harrison and Beth Williams.
Improving academic performance in math and eliminating student behavior issues are primary foci of the Shiver charter.
If the Shiver charter is approved, the school will have the flexibility to extend math periods for grades 1-8. Shiver officials believe teachers will need more instructional time in order to meet new, more rigorous standards.
Principal Clark said she plans to implement a school wide enrichment program that will include minicourses once a month for students with good behavior. The program will be based off the popular Project SEE that offers students after school enrichment courses and activities.
“This will give students something to look forward to and strive to achieve,” Ms. Clark said.
Students who have behavior issues will benefit from anger management sessions.
The terms of charters for both Cairo High School and Shiver Elementary School are for five-years.

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