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School Flexibility in Bulloch County

The Bulloch County Board of Education is a Strategic Waivers School System (formerly known as Investing in Education Excellence IE2).  State law (OCGA §20-2-84.3) required all Georgia school systems to notify the Georgia Department of Education (GaDOE) by July 15, 2015, under which of four new education flexibility models they will operate. 

Making the Strategic Waivers School System Choice

At the November 6, 2014 Board of Education meeting (PDF), the Board approved Superintendent Charles Wilson’s recommendation to pursue the Strategic Waiver School System (IE2) status.  Superintendent Wilson and the Board of Education believe that the Strategic Waivers School System is the logical choice for Bulloch County Schools, based on the school system's community engagement processes in 2014 and 2015, and  its strategic plan. The Board’s choice determines the school system’s eligibility for freedoms from certain state education laws and regulations. Education leaders believe this flexibility will significantly increase community involvement, spur innovation and increase collaboration.

According to the Georgia Department of Education, each of the four options (Strategic Waivers, Charter System, System of Charter Schools/Charter Clusters, and Status Quo) allow systems to implement various flexibility options (PDF) such as waivers of state class sizes, expenditure controls, teacher certifications, and salary schedule requirements. No waivers from federal-level requirements can be granted. In exchange for these state-level operational freedoms, school systems will be held to a legally binding, performance-based contract with the state.

The Board began exploring its options in November 2013. On March 31, 2014, Sherrie Gibney-Sherman, a Georgia Department of Education representative, led an orientation for the Board, Central Office leadership and principals at Statesboro High School.  The presentation provided an overview and comparison of the four flexibility models. This meeting was a chance for school system leaders to dig deeper and fully understand the benefits and burdens of each of the four models. (see the PowerPoint presentation that was presented to the Board)(PDF)

The models offer flexibility in exchange for higher academic expectations and performance measures. The state will give school system’s various levels of freedom from state controls. "The Georgia General Assembly wanted decisions affecting education to be moved back closer to students,” said Gibney-Sherman. “Each district can now decide what they want for their students.”

Through annual community engagement events like Speak Up for Education, stakeholders have told the school system what they feel is going right and ideas for improvement.  The Strategic Waiver System is an opportunity to be more innovative, and to work with the community to decide how we want to work with what we have, and to do what we want with the least constraints from state government.

Bulloch County Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson believes the school system’s faculty professional learning communities support a move to  a Strategic Waivers System.  Professional Learning Communities promote collaboration amongst schools’ teachers either by academic subjects or grade-level teams. They can help bring innovative ideas from teachers to the table.  He also feels that with a community like ours that is rich in post-secondary, business, industry, and fine arts resources, this new model can create more of the incubator-type model needed to spur innovation and increased opportunities for faculty and students.

Preparing Administrators & Faculty to Lead Innovative Schools

In preparation for Georgia’s school flexibility trend and increased school-level autonomy, the Board of Education and Wilson began five years ago putting strategic district initiatives in place. These initiatives will better help principals and teachers work along side parents to  guide and spur innovation in their schools. These are a few of those key initiatives.:

First, the district worked with the community to develop a strategic plan. For the first time, there is now alignment from the board room to the classroom for school improvement.

Second, all school administrators and teacher leader teams have received training in school improvement planning from the Georgia Leadership Institute for School Improvement. They are now equipped to better create performance cultures within their schools.

Third, the district is working to establish true professional learning communities and is continuing to support schools in this implementation. These teams allow teachers to better collaborate and plan across grade levels and academic subjects to effect student achievement.

Fourth, the district continues to invest the best data analysis and instructional technology tools to guide and deliver instruction.

Fifth, the district created an Aspiring Leaders program for current assistant principals and teacher leaders who are preparing for future leadership roles within the district.

The Strategic Waivers School System option is an opportunity for us to be more innovative and to work with the community to decide how we want to work with what we have, and to do what we want with the least constraints from state government.