Originally created 01/26/00

County to explore charter school needs



Richmond County's school board hopes to get answers this week to questions it has about allowing a charter school to open this fall.

The school board's Long Range Planning Committee will meet Thursday with Belle Lambert and Fay Hall, partners in a job training company who want to open a charter school, to hammer out details of the proposed facility.

Ms. Lambert and Ms. Hall, partners in The Bellfa Group, have talked for more than a year about starting a charter school that would help at-risk students and high school dropouts earn a diploma and develop skills that will allow them to qualify for entry-level jobs.

The two submitted a petition to the school board in December. On Jan. 13, the board postponed a vote on the petition until it could get more information.

The 33 charter schools in Georgia serve about 20,000 children, a small percentage of the state's 1.4 million kindergarten through 12th-grade pupils. About 12 other planning grants have been requested from the state Department of Education.

The meeting Thursday is expected to answer board members' questions about the school. A vote on the petition will come next month.

Board Vice President Andrew Jefferson said he is studying the petition and might have questions Thursday.

"I'm going to go there with an open mind and listen to what they have to say," Mr. Jefferson said.

Board member Adna Stein is not a member of the Long Range Planning Committee but says she still has concerns about a charter school.

"I'm not overly in favor of a charter school at the present time," Ms. Stein said. "I would have to learn more about it. I understand that it more or less works under its own power, and that's what bother me. If we are going to pay for something, why shouldn't we have say over how it should run?"

Board member Barbara Padgett is chairwoman of the Long Range Planning Committee. Messages left on her voice mail were not returned Tuesday.

The board has 60 days to respond to the petition.

Ms. Lambert said several parents have expressed interest in the school.

If approved, the facility would open in the fall, possible leasing space in the Regency Mall building in Gordon Highway, Ms. Lambert said.

"We want to work very closely with the Richmond County school board and meet the needs of the community," she said. "We feel like there's a need to meet that niche in the community where there is a dropout rate. We're real excited about it."

Reach Faith Johnson at (706) 823-3765.