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District to seek flexibility
Freedom from mandates comes with greater student performance
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Forsyth County News

It sounds like something from physics class, but the IE_ initiative could free the Forsyth County school system from many state mandates.

Gov. Sonny Perdue's Investing in Educational Excellence plan offers more flexibility in exchange for more accountability for student performance.

Superintendent Buster Evans talked to the school board Thursday about the district's desire to apply for the status, offering a timeline of events that would include parents, students and teachers in the process.

"IE_ is to seek flexibility to serve students in innovative ways, perhaps stepping out of that lockstep of a one-size-fits-all educational model that I think Georgia particularly has," he said. "And I think that we have the talent, the flexibility and the resources in Forsyth County to continue to do that."

So far, only the Gwinett County school system has received the green light from the state to operate under the plan.

The five-year flexibility contract will begin with the 2009-10 school year.

Dana Tofig, spokesman for the state board of education, said there are "a lot of systems that are going to be carefully watching how it goes in Gwinnett."

"Every school system needs to know whether they are going to do this or stay with the status quo," he said, referring to the current Quality Based Education formula, or QBE.

While the formula has been used to determine school funding since the mid-1980s, it has never fully funded the mandates the state places on schools.

IE_ status offers the same amount of money to schools, but does not require that all mandates be met, so long as students reach specified goals agreed to in the contract.

Evans notified the state Georgia Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Governor's Office of Student Achievement and local legislators Friday that the school system plans to apply for a flexibility contract.

In addition to notifying parents, the school system will rely on feedback from stakeholder groups, advisory committees and Local School Councils throughout the application process.

A flexibility contract ties in directly with the system's new strategic plan, a three-year map of goals and priorities that parents, teachers and other stakeholders shaped through a public participation process that began in 2008.

The plan will be finalized at the end of February, shortly before the board hopes to approve a final negotiated flexibility contract.

"This is something we've been talking about ... for a long time," said Ann Crow, who chairs the school board. "We felt like this best suited our district."

Transparency and public communication, board member Mike Dudgeon said, will be important during the process.

"As a board member, we have to be very proactive in order to head off the misinterpretations we may get around this," he said. "And getting it all done before the budget season is in full swing is even better."

The school system's Web site was updated Friday to include a page on the plan, including online feedback forms for parents, teachers and students.

Work has begun on a proposed flexibility contract, which Evans said likely will follow the template the state provided.

A draft of the contract will be presented to stakeholders Feb. 13.

A public hearing on the matter is set for Feb. 16. A second hearing for comment on the final contract will follow on March 16.

Between the two dates, there will be multiple meetings with board members and administrators, as well as business, community, parent, student and teacher groups.

If all goes according to plan, the flexibility contract could be approved during the state education board's April 2 meeting, though it wouldn't apply to the local district until the 2010-11 school year.

Board member Tom Cleveland said he is excited about the possibilities.

"There is a lot of support out there for us to take this step and literally be a leader in the state to show how this can help and how education should be run," he said.