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District aims for charter status
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In an effort to offer their students, teachers and administrators more flexibility, Dawson County school officials are weighing whether to seek charter system status.


Superintendent Keith Porter said the greater flexibility offered a charter system could allow the district “to better serve our students with the best educational opportunities available to them.”


Local school officials have until Nov. 1 to submit an application to the state board of education.


In a 4-0 vote Sept. 13, the Dawson County school board moved forward with plans to apply.


The decision followed a public hearing where parents and residents had a chance to weigh in on the issue.


Former Superintendent Nicky Gilleland, who is currently working as charter system consultant for Dawson County, fielded questions from the audience about the possibilities.


“The main reason for the charter,” Gilleland explained, “is that it allows us to waive rules that hinder some of the things we want to do as a school system.”


Under a charter system, he said, the school board would continue to have “ultimate governance in the school system.”


The new method, however, would allow for “governance councils” at each of the district’s seven schools.


The councils would have specific duties and responsibilities in order to “help set the goals and culture for each school.”


Established by an election process, each of the six-person councils would feature two parents, two business owners and two teachers.


Louis Erste, with the state department of education, said one of the key points sought in each system’s application is “the strength of its governance councils.”


Talk of such councils was popular with local parents at last week’s public hearing.


Barbi Burris, a Big Canoe mother who is considering putting her child in the local school system, said she liked “the idea of the parents being able to have a little more impact.”


Cay Drew, also of Big Canoe, currently has an eighth-grader in the district.


“I’m very impressed with what we heard here tonight,” Drew said. “The idea, the forward thinking, the flexibility ... it all sounds like something that could benefit the students.”


The state school board could give approval by August 2011. To date, just eight school districts statewide, including nearby Gainesville City Schools, have received the designation.


Erste said “one of the main things the state looks for is what type of innovations will be implemented in the system” if given charter status. “And we ask system officials, ‘Are you thinking big enough?’”