FORT VALLEY -- The Peach County school system moved one step closer to official desegregation at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
The board voted unanimously to authorize attorney Phil Hartley of Harbin, Hartley & Hawkins to sign a consent order deeming the school unitary, or integrated, on five of the six Green factors outlined in the federal desegregation order of 1974. According to the order, the district has met requirements in faculty and staff selection, extracurricular activities, discipline, transportation and facilities.
“I just want to reiterate that five of the six have already passed and been unitary,” board Vice Chairwoman Virginia Dixon said.
The area with work remaining is the district’s gifted program. While board members and Superintendent Daryl Fineran declined further comment due to the ongoing legal process, Fineran said the opportunity to get more students involved in gifted classes was a positive thing.
“We’re going to do everything we can to get more students identified as gifted in Peach County,” he said.
The consent order will be officially filed once approved and signed by all parties, including the U.S. Department of Justice.
The district’s transition to a charter system could help with the gifted program participation. The board heard two presentations about that process Tuesday, with one coming from Georgia Department of Education consultant Sherrie Gibney-Sherman.
Depending on how the district’s charter is written, administrators could allow students who didn't score high enough on the gifted assessment to be identified for the program to still be placed in gifted classes. Gibney-Sherman said that’s important because not all gifted students are good test-takers, and they could improve future test scores by being exposed to gifted education.
On top of that, there is currently a cap of 21 students in a gifted class, which means even 22 gifted students requires the district to hire another teacher.
“As a charter system, you don’t have to do that,” Gibney-Sherman said.
Class size is one of the “big four” waivers that charter systems can ask for from the state, along with expenditure control, certification and salary schedule. Less strict certification requirements would free up the district to hire qualified instructors who may not have a background in education but have valuable experience elsewhere.
At a training session earlier in the day, chairman Ben McDaniel pointed to a retired military engineer that is teaching engineering in Fulton County schools.
“Now, he didn’t have a certificate, and they were very successful,” McDaniel said, noting that engineering has been a tough position for Peach County to fill.
A charter system differs from an individual charter school, like Macon Charter Academy, the Academy for Classical Education and the planned Byron Peach Charter High School, Gibney-Sherman said.
In a charter system, each school has a governing board, but while those boards are required to have input in decisions relating to personnel and resources, all of Peach County’s schools would operate under the same charter. Further, the school board would still have final say on those decisions.
“Nothing changes as far as what a local school board’s job is,” Fineran said.
The board will now begin drafting an official charter application and contract, which is expected to be completed by June. In the meantime, school governing boards made of teachers, parents and other community members will need to be elected and trained.
Peach County school board members are next set to gather for their monthly study session on Oct. 27 at 6 p.m.
To contact writer Jeremy Timmerman, call 744-4331 or find him on Twitter@MTJTimm.
CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, the impact on the district's gifted program was described incorrectly. No system can waive the testing requirement for entry into the program, but students who have not been identified as gifted may be allowed to take gifted classes without being counted in the program.