Monday night the Floyd County Schools Board of Education gathered in the superintendent’s office during caucus to listen to a presentation by a Georgia charter school that focuses on giving students in danger of dropping out of school a second chance.
“These are kids that have barriers to education,” said Larry Shook, interim superintendent for Mountain Education Charter High School. “The day schools do a great job getting most of the students through, but the ones who are not successful, are about to drop out or have dropped out, those are the kids we are going after.”
The charter school system is looking to expand its 16 school sites in 15 Georgia counties to Floyd County, and according to Shook, will not be a competition for local schools. Mountain Education is its own school system, complete with its own board of education and central office.
Superintendent for FCS Jeff Wilson invited the charter school to present for the board and — having worked with them in the past — was able to help answer questions posed to the system by board members.
“We have been looking at our alternative school and asking ourselves what are we doing for the kids we have missed,” Wilson said during a phone conversation on Tuesday.
The MECHS system gives students a customized curriculum Shook said, and lets them work at their own pace. In some cases it allows the students who are behind in credits to catch up with their peers, allowing them to transfer back into the school system and graduate on time.
“Whatever the barrier is that these kids have to education, we try to address those barriers, we try to work with those and get around those barriers,” Shook said. “We try to work with those kids and make them successful high school graduates.”
On the subject of graduation, that is up to which school the student is attending at the time they are eligible. Wilson said MECHS has their own graduation ceremony for their students, since they are technically a separate high school, but if a student who has caught up with them wishes to transfer back into the FCS system, then they would be able to do that. This would give them the opportunity to graduate from Floyd County Schools and walk with their peers.
The charter school is funded through full-time equivalency, or how many students attend the charter school system, he said. This would take money away from the Floyd County school system, however if those students are dropping out that money is gone anyway, Shook said. One of the positive effects in bringing MECHS to the area is that they will hire teachers, counselors and staff from the Floyd County area to work in their school.
To get the system to come to Floyd County, the local school board would have to vote to go under contract with MECHS to say they want to work with them, Wilson said. Floyd County Schools would also have to find a facility for the charter system to operate out of, which would usually be in the evenings he added. In return for using the Floyd County Schools facility, Shook said MECHS pays around $50,000 to each of their sponsor schools for any costs of using their buildings.
Wilson said during the caucus that once everything is settled MECHS could begin operations by late fall.
Board Chairman Tony Daniel said Tuesday evening the board has not decided to approve or disapprove of this partnership with MECHS. He said Monday night was the first time he and the other board members had heard details about the program, but have not yet discussed moving forwarded with a partnership.
“It is definitely an option we want to look at,” he said. “Anytime time we can bring a service like this to at-risk students, that is a positive thing.”
Daniel and the other board members had a list of questions they asked Shook and the other MECHS administrators he brought with him. Board member Melinda Jeffers asked about how kids with special education needs would be handled, or if they would be allowed to attend at all. Shook reassured her the school did meet special education needs and contracted out other services as needed. Jeffers also asked Wilson if there was a duplicate program already in place at the College and Career Academy to which Eric Waters, CEO, principal and CTAE director replied there was not.
Board attorney King Askew asked Shook if there was anything in MECHS charter which legally kept them from competing with the county school system. Shook replied there was not.
“So you are just committing you will not compete with us, you are not legally bound to not compete with us,” Askew asked.
Shook replied that is correct. However out of MECHS’ 11 member board, seven are sitting superintendents in part of the counties they serve. Wilson was one when he was the superintendent of the White County School District. Shook said it has been the MECHS’ mission since 1993 to not compete, but support the schools they are trying to partner with. The second chance high school would not only serve Floyd County, but could potentially serve students from Rome city and surrounding counties, Shook said.
Board member Melinda Strickland asked Shook about what their school does with students who drop out due to behavioral issues. Shook said MECHS is not an alternative school for kids with destructive behavior. Strickland replied with a question of will MECHS work with kids from juvenile court, to which the interim superintendent replied they will not. Wilson chimed in and said in his experience MECHS will work with the system on a case-by-case basis.
“That will not be the average student we send their way,” he said.
The average student will be the ones who are behind in school. Over two thirds of the kids who come to MECHS are one year behind in their school work, Shook said. Some are behind even further. Wilson said Floyd County Schools will work on sending those students the system sees failing to MECHS.
Daniel said on Tuesday that Monday night’s presentation did not mean the Clayton-based charter school system will be coming to Floyd County. He said he is sure Wilson will bring it back to their attention at a later date.
“He (Wilson) is all about the kids,” Daniel said. “It is what impressed us so much about him.”