We collected answers to three questions from the three Fulton County candidates in the District 5 race. (We also did other counties and will post those candidate responses in the next day or so.) These responses will appear in the print edition in shorter form throughout the next week.
1: How do you feel about Fulton possibly becoming a charter school system and what factors would influence your decision?
2: Would you be in favor of restoring the band and orchestra programs at the elementary level school even if it meant making additional cuts elsewhere?
3: What’s one thing you would improve about the school system?
Gregg Blotner is a chiropractor in Alpharetta with two children in Fulton schools.
1. I am not opposed to Fulton County becoming a charter school system. However, turning an entire public school system into a charter system is not an easy task and will require extensive input. Since charter school systems do not have to follow state approved curriculum guidelines, we must make sure that the current curriculum is maintained or superior to what is currently in place. Charter systems can also regulate class sizes, length of school day and year. I would hope the plan would include a decrease in class sizes and a look at the calendar. Since a Charter school system is more accountable for the quality of the education that will be offered, I believe the charter, or contract, would have to be one that would be a change in a positive direction from where we are now. With some of the deep cuts that have been made, I question whether we will be able to provide a well rounded quality education.
The charter must be set up with appropriate checks and balances for accountability to ensure that it won’t be lost after the 5 year term expires. The principles of the contract must be followed and monitored very closely for the system to succeed. For me to fully support becoming a charter system, that accountability must be clearly defined.
2. I was not in favor of cutting the band and orchestra program at all. Research shows that music along with language and fine arts are an integral part of a child’s education and development. If after reviewing the budget, I found there were ways in which the school system could manage with cuts elsewhere that did not directly affect the students, or laying off anymore teachers, I would definitely be in favor of restoring the band and orchestra programs at the elementary school level.
3. One thing I would improve is transparency of the school board through communication. After participating in many focus groups that included both parents and teachers, I found that this was a top concern. According to the feedback, the perception is that the board predetermines decisions then schedules meetings to gather public opinion, however, the public’s opinions are rarely acknowledged when it is time for a vote. Any communication or community meetings then offered are deemed a waste of time by constituents.
In district 5, historically, community meetings have been held in the middle of the day typically on a Tuesday or a Thursday between 11:00am and 1:00 pm. The average constituent whether parent or teacher is at work therefore unable to attend. More important, they do not have an open forum to share their thoughts to their school board representative. I feel that in order to truly represent the teachers and the parents, board members must be available to the taxpayers. A school board member’s vote has to be representative of its constituents.
In summary, an important change would be for the school board to respond to the public with an open mind and take into account what the people have to say and share those opinions with the rest of the board so that this school system is a system representative of all the people.
Marti Miller Elliott is a 30-year educator who has lived in Johns Creek area for 20 years. Two children are Fulton schools graduates.
1. I have already served on a Charter School Committee for a Fulton County School. From the pre-planning through the implementation process, I was involved as a teacher, department chair, and Local School Advisory member. The Charter School concept allows for innovation in meeting the challenges of high achievement. The school/system must adhere to Georgia Professional Standards. However, waivers may be given by the state to allow for adaptation for Charter goals. The school/system staff must have commitment to the Charter , and all participants (teachers/administrators/parents) should have input throughout the Charter’s process.
Data/statistics show that educational accomplishment is directly tied to a person’s income, which in turn has a direct impact on our community growth, citizen involvement, and criminal activity. Therefore, we owe our children the best educational opportunities and experiences. We must be constantly seeking more effective ways to give our future generation the tools for success. Yes, I am in favor of exploring this concept and possibly becoming a system-wide charter.
2. Music is an universal language. The instrumental component helps with hand/eye coordination, brain processing, mathematical and science understanding, and, most importantly, reading. The brain development for children is most rapid from ages 1 to 10. After 10 years of age, the brain development slows and future learning references and builds on the “foundation” of previous achievement and skills. Therefore, any program that makes this “ foundation” stronger is important to the academic success for our future generation. In order to finance this program’s re-instatement, I would first examine and streamline Fulton County procedures (not personnel) by making procedural spending more cost effective.
I am a believer in creative problem solving by people brainstorming ideas. I also believe in compromise. Cutting the instrumental elementary program totally was not in the best interest of giving our students life skills or helping the children who are tactile learners to have hands on experience in mastering basic skills. Every program in our elementary schools shapes the child. I would not endorse cutting another program but would rather seek to design an “interdisciplinary” approach in which multiple programs could be combined to allow for enriching and instructional experiences that comply with the Georgia Professional Standards. In addition to being a coordinator and development team member in educational decisions involving millions of dollars in Federal Grants I have additional business experience as a partner in a family business for 10 years and as a business manager for a property attorney. I realize that choices must be made. We must commit ourselves to maximizing every penny in the School System’s budget to benefit every child. We must think creatively and find solutions together.
3. After 30 years as a career educator, including elementary, middle, and high school, I know that classroom learning environment is the key component in improving education. I am not speaking of an old school versus new school. I am referring to the “magic” of the classroom interaction. Class size is the issue. With less students in a classroom, each student has the opportunity to be heard, to participate, and to be understood by the teacher. Multiple class activities are possible with fewer students. Our high school computer labs do not presently allow for one computer per student. Crowded science labs are challenged when using chemicals. With smaller classes, teachers are able to not only monitor individual students but also engage each student within a class period. The learning partnership between the student and teacher is successful. This will be the ultimate challenge during the “Great Recession”. Now, we must achieve for our children and the future.
Linda F. McCain is director of sales and marketing for Parisia Ltd and has worked as a substitute teacher in Fulton. She has three children in the district.
1. The exploration process has just begun for the charter school system, and I look forward to hearing the feedback gathered at the upcoming charter school forums. Fulton already has both start up charters and conversion charters. Each year there are more inquiries from existing schools about the possibility of becoming a conversion charter.
Clearly, many educational leaders in Fulton are already interested in the additional flexibility that comes with charter status. Although changes of this magnitude are often met with resistance, if the purported benefits of student achievement, flexibility, and ability to utilize funding in a more efficient manner are deemed to be realistic and attainable, then I would be open to continuing the investigation on a system wide level.
2. The band and orchestra curriculum, which was eliminated due to budget constraints, highlights the need for more flexible funding. Although highly valued by parents in North Fulton, it was expendable when the decision was viewed under the larger scope of all of Fulton County. The challenge is in reinstating programs that have been eliminated without access to additional dollars. I would like to work towards local control, based on the cluster, of available funding and more flexibility in the use of dollars focusing on the specific needs of our diverse student population.
3. Fulton County currently provides top quality educational programs for our highest achieving students and we have many resources dedicated to serving the special needs of other student populations. It is the 70% in the middle that seem forgotten. The “one size fits all” approach leaves many students with lost potential. We should concentrate on delivering curriculum in an environment that encourages and supports all students to stretch themselves. Additionally, I think that it was a mistake for the state to move away from the Career Tech diploma. Some students would be better served with a different path that equips them with skills enabling them to become gainfully employed upon graduation.