A local group intends to petition the Columbia County Board of Education to establish the county’s first charter school.
Todd Shafer, a fifth-grade teacher at Martinez Elementary School, said the group hopes to create a K-12 school that infuses art, music, dance, drama and foreign language into its curriculum. It will be known as Columbia County School for the Arts, according to the group’s letter of intent, which was sent to school Superintendent Sandra Carraway on Friday.
Should the group’s petition be approved by the school board, the charter school hopes to open by fall 2015, beginning with grades K-5 and adding a grade each year.
“It is our hope that we will not face opposition, but I know that the reality is there will be pushback,” Shafer said. “We want to work in partnership with the school district to continue and build on the very well-deserved reputation the district has.”
School board members were unaware of the group’s intentions and had not seen the letter of intent Friday.
Board Trustee Roxanne Whitaker said she “has never been a big proponent” of the charter school concept, but pledged to keep an open mind when the group presents its official petition.
“I have to admit that this is kind of a shock,” said Whitaker. “I would have thought Columbia County was one of the last places someone would want a charter school.”
She also questioned the need for a school with an arts infused curriculum since many schools already have strong arts programs.
“Harlem High School’s drama program is one of the best in the country,” she said.
Shafer said the charter school will serve students countywide and there will be no audition or selection process, such as the one at Davidson Fine Arts School in Augusta. When it reaches full enrollment, they expect to serve more than 1,100 students.
According to the group’s letter of intent, the mission of the proposed Columbia County School for the Arts is to develop students to become confident, creative and productive citizens within their community. Innovations will include:
- Daily instruction in the arts (visual, music, dance and drama)
- Daily instruction in foreign languages (K-12)
- Collaboration between the academic and arts faculty
- Cooperative teaching opportunities between academic, arts and foreign language faculty”
Shafer said the founding board includes Michael Berg, a colleague at Martinez Elementary; Ron and Kathleen Jones, of the Columbia County Ballet; Linda Scales, a founding member of the Jessye Norman School of the Arts; Carolyn Dolen, the executive director of the Augusta Choral Society; and Cindy Wilkinson, the worship leader at Mosaic United Methodist Church.
Shafer said Ed Innovation Partners, an Athens, Ga.-based firm is assisting in “the process of preparing the petition.”
He said the group does not have a private funding source or a location for the school. They are still in the initial stages and will be seeking a lot of public input throughout the process, he said.
“The next step is we’ll be holding community meetings to get feedback and answer any questions that the public will have,” Shafer said. “We want everyone’s help to plan a petition to create a school that will be beneficial to the entire community.”
Board Trustee Mike Sleeper said the biggest hurdle for this group is funding.
“That is the biggest problem for the Columbia County school system as well as the biggest problem in education in general,” he said.
Sleeper said he isn’t opposed to the charter school concept, but not all charter schools are alike.
“Charter schools have their place and there are some instances that work well. Is this one of them? I don’t know,” he said. “I would be very interested in what they intend to do, where they are going to go and how we’ll pay for it.”