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Group petitions county and state officials to create charter school

Posted: May 28, 2014 - 12:01am  |  Updated: May 28, 2014 - 1:57am

 

The group hoping to launch Columbia County’s first charter school has submitted applications to the school board and the state with hopes of opening its doors in August 2015.

The Columbia County School for the Arts, which would be open to all Columbia County residents, would infuse fine arts and foreign language throughout the academic curriculum.

Applications to be considered this year were due May 15, and the Charter Schools Commission of Georgia will announce its decision in the fall. The commission was revived through a Georgia constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2012 and has the authority to establish charter schools in the state, even over the objections of local school boards.

Before state officials have their say, however, the Columbia County school board will make its own decision on whether to support the school.

“We’ve received the application,” said trustee Mike Sleeper. “It is a very thick document, and it will take some time to go through it.”

Sleeper said the board will appoint an internal committee to examine the charter school proposal and make recommendations to the board: “We got 90 days to make a decision to what we are going to do, whatever that decision is.”

Should the board decline to endorse the application, the state commission can still approve it.

Though charter schools are required to follow the state’s Common Core curriculum and administer state-approved standardized tests, they have flexibility in how they deliver the instruction.

The Columbia County School for the Arts is proposed as a K-12 school but would open in 2015 with kindergarten through eighth grade and add a grade each year.

The school proposes that academic standards would be infused with music, dance, visual arts and drama to “emphasize critical thinking and higher-order thinking skills,” according to the application.

The school’s governing board is composed of three Martinez Elementary School teachers, including Todd Shafer, who said the school is meant to fill a need in Columbia County for more fine arts-infused learning.

“We were really thinking about the direction of public education in general and looking at how it is becoming a one-size-fits-all approach,” Shafer said. “Yes, Columbia County does offer music and art, but for most students, it ends up being once every five or six days for half an hour.”

Kindergarten through third-grade students would receive 30 minutes of instruction daily in each fine arts discipline, and older students would spend more time on two to three disciplines of their choice. Foreign language would be taught daily to all students.

The arts would be infused daily into academic courses – with students using music to understand math and drama to act out concepts learned in science.

Shafer said that unlike John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School in Richmond County, the Columbia County school will not require auditions. Applications from Columbia County residents will be entered into a lottery if there is more interest than seats.

Shafer said that through community outreach, the group has gathered more than 1,000 signatures on a petition of interest.

“Columbia County is changing,” he said. “(The school system) is meeting the needs of a certain group of students, but there’s a group of students whose needs are not being fully met.

“With Cyber Command moving into the NSA, with the medical community growing, people are coming to this area from areas that have school choice. They’re coming into Columbia County, and the only choice they have is the school that matches the number on their mailbox. We want to add to that.”

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