By Elisa A. Falco, Director of Education & Training, GCSA
As a former Clayton County Public Schools teacher, I know first hand the struggles facing this urban district. While charter schools are not the only answer to the challenges facing Clayton County, they should be considered a key strategic component of moving the district to academic excellence.
Last November, Clayton County citizens voted 71% in favor of Amendment One — the highest in the state of Georgia. On the surface, the depth of support for the constitutional amendment reveals that families in Clayton County want school choice. On a deeper level, though, it echoes the demand witnessed all around the state for quality charter schools that address achievement, equity and innovation.
Currently, GCSA is working with two high capacity founding groups who will submit charter applications to Clayton County Public Schools this spring. Utopian Academy for the Arts will focus on single gender instruction and will be an all-boys school serving middle grades. Additional innovative features include the Expeditionary Learning Curriculum Framework as well as classes in the performing, visual, culinary, and media arts. Artesius Miller who leads the Utopian founding board, is a recent graduate of Columbia’s Teachers College Masters program, who is committed to improving options for students in Clayton County.
A second group, led by the 2011 Milken Educator Award winner for Georgia, Shekema Silveri, plans to open the Silveri Service Learning Academy Charter School in fall of 2014. The school will serve students in grades six through twelve and will focus on critical literacy, culturally responsive pedagogy and service learning. In addition to these key innovations, the school will emphasize careers in teaching and provide opportunities for students to gain pedagogical experience.
Both schools show great promise for students in Clayton County and both founding groups are dedicated to partnering with the local school board to make these innovative schools a reality.
As promising as these schools are, they will not be locally authorized without an increased understanding, at the school board level, of how charters can be a solution to tactical challenges the district continues to face. That is why I was so pleased when Charlton Bivins, a Clayton School Board member, attended our Charter Development 101 workshop, to gain a better understanding about charter school authorization.
Change cannot happen fast enough to satisfy a reformer like myself, but recent events clearly demonstrate that the charter landscape in Clayton County is improving. I am hopeful that Clayton County families will soon get what they voted for: high quality charter schools.