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Plan for flexibility unveiled
Public to get say on Monday night
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Forsyth County News

Writing it was difficult enough, given the amount of detail and state code involved, but local school officials could face a greater challenge explaining the district's flexibility application to parents.

Known as IE2, Investing in Educational Excellence is a state initiative that offers school systems more flexibility from state mandates, with increased accountability.

So far, nearby Gwinnett County is the only one of the state's 180 school systems to have secured such freedom. With an expected state budget shortfall, however, several school systems could join Forsyth County in applying.

Superintendent Buster Evans presented the county's proposed plan to the local school board Thursday. It includes a list of 14 areas where the system could seek flexibility from state mandates.

Among them are the district's class sizes, scheduling for instruction, student promotion and language assistance and early intervention programs.

During a public hearing Monday night, school system officials will give insight and examples into each of the areas.

The group will field questions and gather feedback, both in person and on the school system's Web site.

A second public hearing will be held March 16, three days prior to when the board is scheduled to approve the plan.

"The details are kind of overwhelming," said board member Mike Dudgeon, following Evans' presentation.

"There's reams of reams of bureaucratic rules that govern how schools operate. We're saying we want to remove some of those and just use some common sense and put some money where it needs to go."

If approved by the local school board on Feb. 26 and the state in early April, some of the flexibilities could take effect with the 2009-10 school year.

While all 14 areas can be used by all the county's schools, each school gets to decide which, if any, it would use.

Some schools may want freedom in just one or two areas. The idea, Evans said, is to prevent a cookie-cutter approach by giving each school some leeway to meet its individual needs.

"What works in one county may not necessarily work in all 180, and the same for what works at one school may not work at 30," Evans said. "Our goal is to provide increased flexibility for obtaining higher results by decreasing the bureaucracy."

For each of the areas of flexibility, there is an additional area of accountability beyond the state's adequate yearly progress requirements.

School spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo said the increased accountability would force the system to exceed its previous expectations.

"In some places, we've gotten as high as we can go, and because our hands are tied with state rules, we couldn't get to the next level," she said. "With this increased flexibility, we can get to that next level."

High on the district's list for improvement are writing scores, an area in which Evans said it "may not be doing quite as well as we could do with an effective systemwide approach."

The list also includes multiple requests for flexibility with class sizes, since many state laws overlap.

The intent is not to go way over the limit, several board members said Thursday, but rather to make room for one or two more students in mid-year without disrupting a class.

"We're not going to do something that we feel is going to hinder our students," said board member Nancy Roche. "We still have that accountability and we still want to increase student achievement. So we're not going to do something silly like put too many kids in a class."

Evans said progress will be tracked on a yearly basis to ensure each school is keeping pace with expectations.

"Our goal is not necessarily to try to get out from under all the state board rules and policies that exist, because many of them are very good," Evans said. "We've kind of targeted what we think are important with our district, without having to depart with the entire state of Georgia code.

"In the end, if we move more students to exceeding expectations on the areas of accountability we've talked about, I think that will be the real litmus test as to the effectiveness of this."