Two Georgia school districts win honors for innovations

Marietta City Schools is the innovator of the year, according to the Georgia Charter System Foundation, which picked the school system because of the unusual new services it has created for its students since it became one of the state’s first charter school districts nearly a decade ago.

The tiny system of nearly 9,000 students in Cobb County was picked alongside the even smaller Calhoun City Schools in northwest Georgia for honors in this, the second year of the Foundation’s awards. Calhoun, with its emphasis on online learning and flexible scheduling, earned charter system of the year.

Last year, Fulton County Schools won system of the year and Putnam County won the innovator award.

Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle, who championed the legislation that established the charter system category, spoke at the Dunwoody awards ceremony, saying he wants to see schools where struggling students don’t fall through the cracks and where high-performing students don’t hit a ceiling.

“This is the kind of vision that can become, and will become, a reality in this state,” he told the crowd of educators and lawmakers Wednesday.

Since becoming a charter system, Marietta created the Graduate Marietta Student Success Center, where students and their parents can get help with problems such as mental health, housing assistance, food, clothes, technology and other things that affect learning but often go unaddressed.

Calhoun has innovations of its own, including a college and career academy where students can get a taste of the work world.

Under a more recent state law, school districts have been encouraged to become charter systems. So far, 40 have, including Atlanta Public Schools, City of Decatur Schools, Marietta and Fulton. Another two districts are expected to join by year’s end.

Cagle called these schools “disruptors” of the traditional way of doing things. Nearly all the rest have chosen a different route, becoming so-called “system waiver” districts.

Both get a degree of freedom from state regulations, with charter systems getting more.

Cagle said he’d like to see more districts choose the charter route, but they have to be motivated to do it on their own. These districts get a slight increase in funding, and Cagle has no plans to increase that amount because he doesn’t want money to be the motivator. Instead, he hopes districts such as Marietta and Calhoun will inspire more followers.

“They’re blazing a new trail, and eventually there will be other school systems that say this is the right path and we need to be there,” he said.

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