Mike Klein Online

Making The Grade: A Must See Film About Georgia School Choice

Mike Klein

The Georgia school choice story sometimes appears to need new faces and voices other than the usual suspects – politicians, teachers, charter school leaders and, yes, even policy folks who continue to push the pedal for increased school choice options.

Many new faces and voices tell their stories in a terrific film that will premiere Thursday evening at the Cobb Galleria Centre with remote showings at locations statewide.  “Making the Grade in Georgia: Educational Freedom and Justice for All” packs a lot into one half-hour.  Regardless of where you stand on school choice, this film should be watched because it educates.

Thursday’s Cobb Galleria Centre premiere is free to the public.  The Making the Grade in Georgia website has details plus information about live streaming locations scheduled in Albany, Ellijay, Rome and Atlanta.  The film was commissioned by Americans for Prosperity Foundation – Georgia.

“When parents choose then schools compete,” says Virginia Galloway, state director of AFP – Georgia. “When schools compete everybody wins because we have better options to offer the kids in Georgia.”  AFP – Georgia retained Atlanta TeleProductions to produce the documentary.

Much is at stake in the Georgia school choice movement.  Last spring the state Supreme Court overturned the charter schools commission.  Governor Nathan Deal approved a $10.9 million rescue that enabled several existing schools to open this year.  The future of Georgia charter schools authorization will be back before the General Assembly starting next week.

Now about new faces and voices in Making the Grade:  You will meet Jewel Faison, executive director at A School for Children in Albany.  “We provide multi-age, non-graded learning environments for children between the ages of seven to 17.  That means we get back to the one-room school house where everybody is important and every need is met,” says Faison.

“We’re not a school for children with difficulties.  We’re a school for children.  However, we have an opportunity to serve children that have had difficulties,” says Faison.  “When I see those childrens’ lives transformed … when they can begin to take correction and not respond negatively that is very impactful to me.  That gets me up in the morning.”

You will meet Perry Everson, a student at Pataula Charter Academy in Edison.  “We get to do this hands-on learning.  You just don’t sit there and copy all these things out of your textbook and memorize all these notes.  You get to go and actually do it.  It’s really helped me learn a lot more because you get to do it and once you do it, it really sticks in your brain.”

You will meet Kim Whipple, mother of eight.  Two are in college, one attends private school and five attend Georgia Cyber Academy.  “For those people who want to home school but don’t feel quite comfortable in doing that on their own… this is a perfect option,” Whipple says.

You will meet Morgan Giesler.  The young musical artist has her own website, five songs on iTunes; she recently recorded in Nashville and Morgan will be in Los Angeles this month to pursue her acting and singing.  Morgan is a hybrid school pupil; she studies at home and in a supervised setting.

“If you have a kid who is not having to go to the theater, doing singing, dancing, all this stuff, if they enjoy their public school and they like it, I think they should go there,” says Morgan.  “But if they don’t enjoy it and they are doing other things I think that is when you should move them.”  Her proud mother, Dina Giesler, says Morgan “is thriving.”

By some estimates, 1.5 million adult Georgians do not have a high school diploma.  More than 60,000 high school seniors failed to graduate on-time in 2010.  Our statewide high school graduation rate, about 65 percent on-time, puts Georgia in the bottom five of all 50 states.

“Our education system, I’m going to put it in my vernacular, is jacked up from the floor up.  It’s broken,” says Melvin Everson, chairman of Georgia’s EEOC.  “I support my public schools but we have to come to the realization, one size doesn’t fit all.  Home school, private school, public school, charter school; whatever it takes to educate this workforce, we better do it.”

The film says about three-in-ten Georgia students in lower grades achieve basic proficiency in reading and math.  “The impact of this is that the societal divide widens between the haves and the have nots,” says Jerri Nims Rooker, director at the Center for an Educated Georgia.

The long-term economic impact of an under-educated population is well documented:  lower lifetime earnings, higher unemployment and other social needs.  “We’re just losing generations of, especially, young minority males,” Georgia Tech economist Christine Ries says in the film.

Major players who support school choice are present.  “The challenges are enormous but we have to win this issue,” says Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers. “If we’re going to be competitive economically we’ve got to improve all schools,” says Georgia Public Policy Foundation president Kelly McCutchen.  “That’s why we believe in school choice.”

Making the Grade begins with the premise that school choice is good for Georgia and it stays on the point.  The film acknowledges Georgia public education progress in many sectors – special needs and tax credits scholarships, and the increased use of technology everywhere in learning – but it equally makes the point that not everyone has the same access.

“Success is when we have our students developing strong problem-solving skills, critical thinking skills,” says Steven Walker, CEO at Tech High School in Atlanta.  “You’re going to collaborate and learn how to work with each other and you’re going to learn how to communicate well and you’re going to be very respectful and understanding of your community as a citizen.  The biggest thing that we are proud of is we are preparing them to be successful.”

AFP – Georgia plans to make DVDs of Making the Grade available statewide.  Discussions are underway that could result in television broadcasts.  Thursday evening’s Cobb Galleria Centre and satellite viewing locations are open to the public.  The movie will also be streamed onto the documentary website at www.makingthegrademovie.com.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

January 4, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Immediate Hurdles Gone, Are Georgia Special Schools on Safe Ground?

Mike Klein

After six weeks of angst, most but not all former state commission charter schools will be back in business this August now that the state Board of Education has thrown them a life preserver.

Nine schools received two-year state special school charters and two had their local district charters affirmed Tuesday morning.  Two other schools received state board approval earlier this month and two or possibly three others are not expected to open this fall.

Truth be told, there were no surprises after the state Department of Education said Monday that eleven schools would be recommended for approval.  But there was substantial relief and a sense the pressure is off just six weeks after the state Supreme Court overturned the Georgia Charter Schools Commission, tossing 16 schools and 15,000 students into educational peril.

“Their futures were settled today,” said a relieved looking state schools Superintendent John Barge.  “We’re happy,” said Stephanie Reid, board chair at the Georgia Connections Academy online learning school which expects 900 students in August.  “It’s an important hurdle,” said Georgia Charter Schools Association executive vice president Andrew Lewis.

Clearing immediate hurdles does not clear the playing field.  All sides recognize there is always the possibility that a lawsuit could be filed to challenge the legality of state special charter schools.  “At this point our legal folks feel confident that we are on safe grounds,” Barge said.

The state special charters authorized on Tuesday are designed to bridge the next two school years that begin in August and end in May 2013.  Several other next steps will seek to clarify the authorization and funding steps for future charter schools that do not have local authorization.

First, the General Assembly is expected to consider placing a constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot that would ask voters to override the Supreme Court decision.  The net result would be to legitimize a state commission that could authorize charter schools and allow local property tax dollars to follow the pupil, even if local school boards disagree with the authorization.

Second, Governor Nathan Deal’s office and the General Assembly have begun a top-to-bottom review of how the state should fund public schools.  The vehicle is a special commission created by the 2011 General Assembly. The bill that created the commission calls for a two-year study, but some legislators would like to finish sooner.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will help.

All nine charter schools approved Tuesday will receive between $2,700 to $4,400 in state and federal dollars, but no local property tax dollars.  The same is true for the Georgia Cyber Academy / Odyssey School combination which the board approved a couple weeks ago.

The state board also affirmed local school district charters granted by Gwinnett County to Ivy Preparatory Academy and by DeKalb County to The Museum School of Avondale Estates.  Those two schools are eligible for state and federal dollars, and also local property tax dollars.  Ivy Prep originally rejected Gwinnett’s charter before later deciding to accept it.

“The bottom line for us was we wanted to make a decision that was in the best interests of the kids,” said Christopher Kunney, who is vice chairman of the Ivy Preparatory Academy board.  “Regardless of the history with Gwinnett, regardless of what was pending or not pending or proposed, we had to think about opening a school in the fall.”

State brick-and-mortar special charter schools approved Tuesday are Atlanta Heights Charter in Atlanta, Charter Conservatory for Liberal Arts and Technology in Statesboro, Cherokee Charter in Canton, Coweta Charter in Senoia, Fulton Leadership in Atlanta, Heritage Preparatory in Atlanta and Pataula Charter in Edison.  Two digital online learning schools were approved, Georgia Connections Academy and Provost Academy.

Chattahoochee Hills Charter in south Fulton decided it will not try to open in August.  Peachtree Hope Charter in DeKalb County recently split ways with its education management partner and Peachtree will need to submit a new application to the state board, possibly next month.

Tuesday’s meeting was also the symbolic last breath for the Georgia Charter Schools Commission that will officially fade to black on Thursday when the state fiscal year ends.  Mark Peevy, the outgoing and only executive director, has been trying to place four staff members into other state positions. Peevy said he does not have anything new lined up for himself.

There was no cake, but there were many folks saying thanks.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

June 28, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment