Dr. Meria Carstarphen delivered her first “State of the Schools” address on Sept. 9.
Dr. Meria Carstarphen delivered her first “State of the Schools” address on Sept. 9.

DeKalb schools may soon pass Fulton County schools to become the state’s largest charter system if they succeed in its plan to convert its operations to a more flexible model.

In April, Superintendent Michael Thurmond informed the DeKalb Board of Education that the district would pursue charter system status. A public hearing on the decision will follow an Oct. 6 school board work session, where the proposal will be discussed.

Georgia’s school systems are exploring options for more autonomy following a Georgia Department of Education mandate from several years back that they choose an operating model by June 2015.

Schools must choose a charter system model or an “Investing in Educational Excellence System” model, called “IE2,” or retain the status quo. The charter system and IE2 models allow school systems to sidestep many state rules and regulations while also requiring more accountability.

“In exchange for increased autonomy, including waivers from state law, . . . districts receive the flexibility to be innovative and thereby [must] show greater accountability and higher student performance,” said Trenton Arnold, a regional superintendent for DeKalb schools, at a public hearing on Aug. 28.

According to Atlanta Public Schools’ website, the types of flexibility schools may pursue under the charter and IE2 options include customizing course offerings; waiving class-size requirements to allow for college-like settings; waiving class-time requirements to allow students to explore internships or dual enrollments; or hiring subject experts for teachers and non-traditional gifted programs.

The Atlanta Public School System hasn’t chosen what model it will pursue.

“These are things that will dramatically change the way we do business,” said Superintendent Meria Carstarphen during her Sept. 9 “State of the Schools” address. “We haven’t chosen a model. APS could be very similar to what it is today; it could be very different.”

APS currently has a survey on its website seeking community feedback on the direction it should take, and says if it decides to pursue the charter or IE2 option it will submit its application to the state by Nov. 5 following a presentation at its Oct. 6 board meeting.

In Fulton, officials seem pleased that they converted in phases to charter status in 2012, with a final group of schools set to switch by this time next year.

“Our charter system is really beginning to gain a lot of traction,” said Superintendent Robert Avossa, at Fulton schools’ back-to-school news briefing in August.

He cited examples of what some Fulton schools have been able to do as a result of the conversion.

At Centennial High School in Roswell, a physical education credit was waived, meaning that students in an athletic club or marching band can take a high-level credit course such as math or science instead.

Meanwhile, Northview High School in Johns Creek applied for a class-size waiver, allowing the school to create larger classes to simulate a college experience.

“We’re excited to see if we can replicate some of those strategies across the district,” Avossa said.