Columbia County has a lot of great things going for it. The cost of living is reasonable; it is an easy drive to the mountains and the beach; it takes care of its residents’ recreational needs through the lake, parks and events; the level of crime is low; and it has an excellent school system. However, one thing Columbia County does not have is school choice. In 2012, the citizens voted 55 percent to 45 percent to allow state or local approval of charter schools. This result shows the community’s desire for school choice. That is one reason why the Columbia County School for the Arts has petitioned the local school district and the State Charter Commission to open in August 2015.
The Founding Board has a vision to operate a charter school that will infuse the arts within the academic curriculum and offer foreign languages to all its students, beginning in kindergarten. The point of the Columbia County School for the Arts is not to discredit the Columbia County School District. On the contrary, we want to add value to an already excellent school system, and offer something to the students and parents of Columbia County that they are not receiving in the traditional public schools.
Before I go into further detail about our vision and mission, I want to dispel some misconceptions about charter schools. Yes, they were once designed to go into poorly achieving districts and offer parents and students another venue to raise student achievement, through innovative changes in the ways in which the curriculum was taught. Yes, they were once designed to go into more distressed socio-economic areas, where the traditional public schools were not doing their jobs effectively. That has changed a great deal since charter schools were introduced. Many charter schools are now opening in communities just like Columbia County, to provide innovative methods of teaching students and meet the concerns of parents who feel as if the traditional schools are not offering what their children need.
A charter school is a public school of choice. These schools receive funding just like any other traditional public school, however, they tend to operate it for much less money. Being a school of choice, a charter school must open their enrollment to any student that lives in the designated attendance zone. Columbia County School for the Arts will be open to any child residing in Columbia County. There cannot be auditions or admission criteria tied to grades and test scores, per Georgia charter law.
So what is the difference between a traditional public school and a public charter school? A charter school is an organizational model, meaning that it is a contract between the Governing Board of the charter school and the authorizer, in this case either the school district or the State. This contract states that the school will meet or exceed certain goals within the charter in return for the ability to deliver the curriculum in differing ways. The charter school is held to a higher accountability level than that of a traditional public school. We have a local governing board that is comprised of individuals that have expertise in law, business, accounting, arts, and education, making decisions for the school. The students will have to take the same state assessments that other public school students must take, and, of course, manage the public’s tax money in a responsible way. If a charter school falls short in any of these areas, then the charter can be revoked, or parents can remove their children from the school and the school shuts down. How many traditional public schools live up to that threshold of accountability?
What will the Columbia County School for the Arts offer the community? The number one answer to this is an outstanding academic challenge for the students that attend. Secondly, the school will offer the students a way of developing their intrinsic talents in the art of music, drama, dance, or visual arts.
We will allow a student’s creativity to flow and find their artistic talents in which they have a desire to develop to their fullest. The students will have a choice of four foreign languages to learn, beginning in kindergarten. This will allow the students to be bi-lingual once they leave our school, or as close to it as they can be. This will be a plus in our community with the NSA, Cyber Command, and the influx of people that will relocate to this area.
In August 2015, the Columbia County School for the Arts will open as a kindergarten through eighth grade school with approximately 675 students. Each year after that, the school will open a high school grade until we are a K-12 school with an enrollment of approximately 1,100 students.
The school will offer daily instruction in the core academic areas of math, science, reading, and social studies, as well as the fine arts and foreign language. Students in the traditional public schools receive art and music once every five or six days, little to no dance or drama, and unless they are in high school, no foreign language instruction. As the students progress, they will focus on two areas of arts, much like Davidson Fine Arts School in Richmond County.
For more information on the Columbia County School for the Arts, visit www.ccsfta.org.