Hephzibah community members led by the mayor are in the early stages of proposing a charter school to give families dissatisfied with the public school system another educational option.
Hephzibah Chairman Robert Buchwitz said his group is urging residents to fill out an online survey about what they would like to see from a startup charter, what kind of academic and extracurricular programs should be offered, and how the leadership should be structured.
The group held its first organizational meeting last month, and about a dozen core stakeholders will meet again in April to elect governing board members and begin writing the application to the state, Buchwitz said.
“People just want more options,” he said. “But we’re still in the information-gathering stage.”
In the past decade, few groups have approached Richmond County with an interest in launching a charter school – a school that receives public money but is given flexibility in its curriculum and freedom from local school boards. The district has one conversion charter, Jenkins White Elementary Charter School, which functions under the umbrella of the school system.
A constitutional amendment passed by Georgia voters in November made it easier for charter groups to form schools. Now, applications denied by local school boards can be sent to a newly formed state charter commission, which can approve charter applications over the objections of local school boards.
Buchwitz said momentum for the Hephzibah charter school built after the amendment passed and residents saw an opportunity to act.
Danny Brewington, managing partner for planning and development firm Ed Innovation Partners LLC, said he sees a strong possibility of a charter succeeding in the Hephzibah area. About 70 people attended the first meeting last month at the Hephzibah Church of God, which was arranged by Buchwitz and the roughly dozen core members.
Brewington, who was called in by the Hephzibah group as a volunteer adviser, said no theme has been established for the school but the premise would focus on character development, rigorous academics and high expectations.
He said if enough interest and support come from the community, the group will attempt to open the school as early as 2014.
“The real thing for a charter is the ability for local governance, so you can have core stakeholders, community members and parents help make decisions that fit in the overall design of the school and operation,” Brewington said. “The tentative plan is to look at the com=munity input and determine interest and look at what is an appropriate governing structure.”
Buchwitz said that he has not reviewed the online surveys submitted so far but that community input will be reviewed at the next meeting.
Jimmy Atkins, the District 8 Richmond County Board of Education member, who represents Hephzibah, said he is not opposed to charter schools but would support one only if there were a need.
Hephzibah is home to some of the best-performing schools in the district, so the charter school would need to provide students something the existing public schools do not, he said.
“I do not see where there’s a need for it because the schools out there are doing very well,” Atkins said. “But I am very open-minded to listening to their suggestions and to see if it is something that would benefit the students.”