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Charter petition unlikely for 2010
Turnout low, enthusiasm high at meet
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Forsyth County News

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For more information, go online at www.charterschoolsusa.com or www.georgiacharterfoundation.org, or
e-mail scastro@charterschoolsusa.com.

The nine people at Thursday’s meeting seemed engaged and excited about the possibility of bringing a charter school to Forsyth County in 2010.

But after two lightly attended meetings and about 30 comments on its Web site, Charter Schools USA is going to need much more interest to make it a reality.

In fact, without an influx of feedback and community support, representatives of the Florida-based company say they likely will push their application back another year.

“I’m seeing good things, but I’m not seeing enough to say we’re going to drop $12 million on a facility, based on two little rooms," said Danny Brewington, Charter Schools USA representative. "But I think the potential is most definitely there in this community."

Brewington and Sandy Castro talked Thursday about the concept of a charter school, or a privately managed public school for kindergarten through eighth grade.

Charter schools have freedom from state mandates to set their own standards-based curriculum and teaching rules, among other flexibilities.

With the freedom from state mandates, however, comes increased accountability, which must be agreed to in a contract with the local and state school boards.

"In order to present a competitive and comprehensive petition for 2010, we’re going to have to demonstrate more community support to validate that there is an interest and a need here," Brewington said.

Due to state education guidelines, a decision on whether to go forward with a 2010 petition must be made by May 1.

“Based on where we are right now, there has to be more on the community side before anyone’s going to feel comfortable with a petition,” Brewington said.

“But at a minimum, we want to take the time to get the momentum and build off that, determine what that timeline looks like, and if it’s not 2010, then build a comprehensive and strong 2011 petition where we have another set of six to 10 months of community input."

The company has 18 high-ranked charter schools in Florida, its home state, but is looking to expand into Georgia, specifically the fast-growing Forsyth, Cherokee, Cobb and Coweta districts.

Parents could choose to send their children to a charter school instead of an in-district campus. Among the potential differences at a charter school would be mandatory uniforms and at least 20 hours of volunteer service per year from all parents.

Interested students are selected on a lottery basis, which is open to all students in the county regardless of public school district lines.
Thursday’s meeting, like the first session March 5, was held at the Polo Golf & Country Club.

Brewington and Castro gave the same presentation as at the first meeting but to a more receptive crowd. That was much to the credit of Scott Cooper, a local parent who happened to have lived in Palm Bay, Fla., when Charter Schools USA opened a school there.

Cooper was involved in the financial aspect of building the charter school, which his two children attended.

“I just want to see [a Forsyth charter school] succeed, because I know what my experience has been with [Charter Schools USA] and the product that we have received,” Cooper said after the meeting.

Castro said the campaign has been a grass-roots effort. Parents from the first meeting told others about the proposal and those parents commented online.

“They’re talking about it in a favorable way and that’s how it starts,” Castro said

E-mail Jennifer Sami at jennifersami@forsythnews.com.