The ABCs of charter schools
A charter school with a focus on helping at-risk students get their high school diplomas could open next fall in Bibb County.
The Bibb County Board of Education is in the early stages of working out a deal with Foothills Education Charter High School. It marks the first step in establishing a new charter program that serves specifically students from Bibb and Middle Georgia counties who have gotten off track or are behind on course credits.
“This gives kids a chance who never thought they’d earn a high school diploma to earn it,” Foothills Superintendent Sherrie Gibney-Sherman said. “Every student in the state of Georgia should have access to this option. The traditional K-12 school just doesn’t work for everyone.”
Though Foothills is a state charter school and would not be under local control. Its relationship with Bibb County would be a partnership.
The Bibb County Board of Education voted unanimously at a recent meeting to provide Foothills with 75 laptops and a space to operate the charter high school.
In return, Bibb County students and people under 21 who did not graduate from high school will have another option.
“Not everyone wants a GED,” Bibb school’s Chief of Staff Keith Simmons said. “Some people want a high school diploma, not its equivalent.”
Gibney-Sherman, also the CEO of Foothills Education Charter High School, said the school is modeled after Mountain Education Charter School in White County. The charter program operates 16 high schools year round in North Georgia. It is described on its website as “an evening, self-paced, public, high school that grants regular Georgia High School Diplomas.”
The courses are mastery-based, meaning students work until they pass.
Gibney-Sherman said Foothills helped establish Coastal Plains Education Charter High School, which essentially is a replica of the Mountain charter program but with four high schools in south Georgia. The Coastal Plains school’s website bills the program, chartered in 2017, as “South-East Georgia’s answer to the dropout problem.”
The State Charter School Commission granted Foothills a five-year charter in 2015, but Gibney-Sherman said it will apply for renewal to operate beyond 2020.
Foothills operates in counties including Baldwin, Madison, Clarke, Walton, Jackson and Oglethorpe. It also is the provider of education to inmates at Al Burrus Correctional Facility in Forsyth and Arrendale State Prison in Habersham County, but “we are not a punitive school,” Gibney-Sherman said. “Kids choose to come to us.”