Hall schools seek to bypass state mandates

System will apply for flexibility, performance contract

It seems Hall County Public Schools isn’t very comfortable resting on laurels.

Even though the district passed the state’s annual performance check-up, administrators are looking for new ways to push students to excel.

Hall County Schools, a district of more than 25,600 students, is on its way to becoming the third district in Georgia seeking a performance contract under the state’s Investing in Educational Excellence — IE2 — law. The law frees systems from policy mandates educators say stifle their creativity to boost student achievement. Gwinnett and Forsyth systems have already been accepted for IE2 contracts.

With more freedom, Hall Superintendent Will Schofield says the district can better serve students, and he is counting on parents to help administrators develop the right strategies to “re-invent” their local schools.

“The schools of today look an awful lot like the schools my grandparents went to,” Schofield said. “The vast majority of students, particularly in middle and high school are seeing absolutely no relevance in their education. To put it mildly, that is troublesome.”

The district has notified the state of its intent to apply for flexibility and the Hall County school board has endorsed the endeavor. Schools who enter into performance contracts with the state can ask to bypass Georgia education mandates in exchange for the promise of greater gains in student achievement.

Schofield said Hall will seek flexibility in class size, certification, seat time and possibly salary requirements so it can staff and develop a network of schools with programs that appeal to students’ strengths instead of their weaknesses. The district will keep its network of charter schools, add new charters and bring the excitement of charter school learning to its traditional campuses in 2010.

Hall Schools has a growing population of poor and international children. More than half of all students qualified for free or discounted meals last school year. Despite those challenges, the district is waiting on state confirmation that all 34 of its campuses made Adequate Yearly Progress goals for students in 2009 when summer retests of a single elementary school is considered.

“We think IE2 will give [students] the best of both worlds,” Schofield said. “We’ve got 50 years of data that shows finding out what’s wrong with a child and giving them more of it doesn’t work very well. We believe we need to find out what boys and girls ... are good at and build academic programs around their strengths. Whether you are poor or affluent, each one of us has passions and gifts.”