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Decatur School Board discusses charter renewal

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Decatur School Board discusses charter renewal

The Decatur School Board met on Tuesday, Jan. 10, to elect new board officers and discuss the district's charter renewal. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

This story has been updated.

Decatur, GA — The City Schools of Decatur School Board, at its Jan. 10 meeting, discussed the district’s charter renewal.

The school district’s charter will expire in June. CSD must file a renewal application by Feb. 1 in order for the charter to be placed on the State School Board agenda, according to the agenda packet.

CSD used a state law passed in 2007 to become a charter system, giving the district a contract with the state of Georgia to increase student performance in exchange for greater autonomy for the school district.

The district used the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats [SWOT] Analysis from the strategic planning process to guide what the community felt were areas of strength to keep, opportunities the community has, and areas that need to be improved, Superintendent Maggie Fehrman said.

The planning team’s goal is to be successful in all areas, including recruiting and retaining employees. The action team and student advisory team identified initiatives that could be incorporated into the charter.

Fehrman met with the System Charter Leadership Team and gathered input on what works with school leadership teams, areas of improvement, and what additional authority could be delegated or provide opportunities for engagement with the SCLT.

Part of the charter renewal includes innovative features.

“Our first innovative feature is Reading is Justice for All, and this ties to the student success in all areas,” Fehrman said. “What we are working on here is identifying some partnership with some specialized schools that can support CSD to ensure that every student is receiving the intensive reading instruction that they need to become skilled readers, not just at the end of third grade, but throughout their progression in high school.”

The district is also going to look at innovative staffing to identify alternative pathways to teacher certification, look at opportunities for flexible teacher schedules and calendar, and offer multi-year contracts.

“One of the major things we’re looking at here is what are some alternative pathways that can help teachers move from college graduates to certification, or how do we also attract more people into the teaching field,” Fehrman said. “We are partnering with some local universities on developing an alternative certification that would be a middle ground between a paraprofessional and an actual classroom teacher to provide that extended runway for people interested in the teaching profession to get their toe in the water a little faster.”

Fehrman did not state which universities the district is partnering with.

CSD is also hopeful that the alternative certification could be used by those finishing their student teaching, so they can get paid while student teaching.

The third innovative feature is personalized learning pathways to increase the opportunities for students to participate in hands-on experiential learning, and look at opportunities for flexible scheduling that allows students to participate in enhanced internships. CSD will also explore opportunities for additional career pathways for students, including exposure to career courses in elementary and middle school, Fehrman said.

In other business:

– Board Member James Herndon was elected to serve as board chair and Dr. Carmen Sulton was elected as vice chair.

The superintendent application process closed on Dec. 18, 2022. The Georgia School Boards Association, which is conducting CSD’s superintendent search, received 34 applications. GSBA will vet the applications and present them to the school board during a future executive session this month.

According to the agenda packet, interviews will be conducted in executive sessions in February. The finalists will be announced at a board meeting in March, and the next superintendent will be appointed in April. 

– During public comment, a couple of community members addressed the recent racial incidents that occurred at Decatur High School. Dan Baskerville, who previously ran for the school board, noted he is Jewish and said the school district’s response to the inclusion of a swastika in a recent school play was inappropriate. He added that the high school’s production of the Sound of Music and the inclusion of the swastika was appropriate.

“In my opinion, it was all 100% appropriate and bravo to all who were involved in the production,” Baskerville said. “I don’t doubt for a second that the image of the swastika seen by the staff person’s grandmother, who is a Holocaust survivor, triggered painful memories and I sincerely feel for her. I know that every time I see a swastika, I ball up with anger. However, I will say again, I believe sanitizing it out of the play would have been much more concerning.”

He added that censuring theater, art and literature would be a disservice.

“In closing, I’m 100% in support of stamping out racism and discrimination in all and any of its forms in this school system, and everywhere it rears its ugly head, but we do a disservice to this mission when we start to censure theater, art and literature that serves to educate on the history of discrimination towards people, as this play did,” Baskerville said. “I hope going forward, this administration recognizes the error of its response and will take this as yet another teachable moment in regard to how it reacts to instances of perceived or actual bias and discrimination.”

Herndon said the school board is aware of the racial incident that happened at the high school.

“We look forward to repairing the harm that was done and, as a board, developing the policies to be put in place that provide better clarity and direction when unfortunate incidents do occur,” Herndon said. 

Kunle Oguneye added during public comment that the racial incident at the high school and the reassignments of the principal and teacher has been a distraction.

“The 21st century is dramatically different from the 20th century. Individuals anywhere in the world are able to earn money, able to start businesses, create jobs without ever meeting employers, customers or business partners in person,” Oguneye said. “Our focus as a school district should be preparing our students for those opportunities.”

He added that the money spent on hiring the third party to investigate the incident could’ve been spent on academic endeavors.

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