DAHLONEGA — Plans for a proposed college and career academy took a turn Thursday when the Forsyth County Board of Education agreed to drop the charter structure from the public school’s foundation.
The decision, which did not require a formal vote, came after a discussion during a called meeting at the board’s annual retreat in Dahlonega. Officials questioned whether the charter aspect was necessary or being pursued only to secure funding.
That funding was in the form of a $3 million grant from the lieutenant governor’s office. Forsyth County Schools applied for the grant in September and was told in early December it had been deferred to next year.
Aug. 15 is the deadline to apply for a capital outlay project, the application any potential public school must submit, and those behind the Alliance Academy for Innovation of Cumming-Forsyth County said they want to proceed anyway.
“Our Forsyth County Schools governance works really well … looking back, I had some trepidation about involving the state and the lieutenant governor’s office with a charter and what would essentially be another board of education,” said School Superintendent Jeff Bearden said. “The incentive was the funding.”
The district can build the school without the $3 million, Bearden said.
In September, the Forsyth County Public Facilities Authority approved a $20 million funding resolution for the alternative high school that intends to focus on high-demand, high-wage and high-growth job training.
And the school system can run the same curriculum it initially sought — seven to eight pathways not offered elsewhere in the county, with dual enrollment and business and community partnerships — within its current IE2 contract.
Forsyth County Schools runs under the terms of a Strategic Waivers School System (SWSS/IE2) contract with the state Board of Education, giving it flexibility to operate outside of certain state laws, rules and guidelines in exchange for greater accountability for student performance.
A charter school, although public and within the school system, would have required a separate governing board.
“Now it will all clearly be under the direction of the board of education,” Bearden said.
An August 2018 opening for up to 1,000 students is still on course, he said, though “that’s a tight window and everything has to fall into place.”
The city of Cumming has offered about 20 acres for purchase near the Cumming Aquatic Center and the local University of North Georgia campus, off Pilgrim Mill Road near Ga. 400 at Exit 16.
Part of the grant application was to submit a proposal of the charter itself, for which Valery Lowe, director of work force development for the district, spearheaded, among the majority of the process.
Writing the charter was time well spent, Bearden and Lowe agreed. Now they have a curriculum template and a sense of what they need to put in the school.
It was also a chance to prove to the community how serious and realistic they are about the school. They went into the grant presentation in Atlanta with nearly 80 letters of commitment from businesses and the community.
“Other schools applying for the grant were more like the [career, technical agricultural and engineering] programs we already have in our high schools,” Lowe said.
“With writing the charter, now I know I can call up Northside [Hospital-Forsyth] or the sheriff’s office, and they’ll send their best people to help me write a curriculum or even teach.”