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Backers 'astonished' by Oliver Elem. charter rejection

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

E.W. Oliver Elementary School Principal Ron Boykins had no trouble describing the mood of his school's faculty and parents as they left a recent state board of education meeting in Atlanta.

"It felt like we had just left a funeral," said Boykins later Friday night. "Everyone was so sad. We were just astonished that they rejected it ... There was a lot of good stuff in this charter."

The Georgia Department of Education announced on Aug. 13 to the Charter Committee of the state board, a recommendation to deny a charter request from Oliver. The committee accepted the department's recommendation, and the full board of education voted to deny the request on Aug. 14.

Oliver has been trying for two and a half years to win charter status, and many thought the school was in a position to succeed. State school officials had three concerns with the charter proposal, said Dana Tofig, spokesman for state school officials.

"The petition has serious deficiencies in numerous areas with respect to the Charter Schools Act and the State Board Charter Schools Rule," Department of Education officials said in their written recommendation.

Chief concerns about the charter were:

· The proposed charter lacked "sufficient detail" explaining how the charter school would be different from its current incarnation, or how student achievement would be improved by a conversion to charter school status.

· Failure to explain how much autonomy the charter school would have from the Clayton County school system.

· Unclear explanations of requested waivers from using math techniques implemented in other Clayton County elementary schools.

State officials said it appeared the school wanted both a "blanket waiver" as well as specific waivers. Boykins responded that the charter was carefully worded, using language found in previously approved charter applications, and tailored to fit his school. "In that charter, we listed everything we needed ... in order to build a world-class school," Boykins said.

Tofig said Friday that Oliver still has the option of pursuing charter school status if officials still want it. "E.W. Oliver can petition to become a charter school again, but they would need to address the issues with their application," Tofig added.

Boykins said it's unlikely Oliver officials will re-submit the charter request, though. He said the school council may gather to review the charter, but he does not expect much to come from it. "It's dead," Boykins said. "The charter is gone."

Boykins said there was a lack of support from the school system for the charter application. He said no one from the district attended the state board meeting to champion the charter, even though the school system approved it. The county board approved the charter status application on Oct. 1, 2007.

Boykins believes district officials were resigned to the charter's failure before the state meeting began. "There was so much autonomy, so much creativity in that document, it was scary to some people," the principal said.

Many of Oliver's programs, such as the use of the non-traditional Singapore math technique, and a Advanced Placement math program have been eliminated amid pressure from the school system, Boykins said. Oliver only will be allowed to continue it's participation in the Georgia Stock Market game. Oliver is the back-to-back defending state champions in the game, Boykins said.

"We have to transition to being a traditional elementary school now," he said.

He also accused district officials of giving him an ultimatum of continuing to organize the annual MathFest and ScienceFest competitions, or remaining as the principal at Oliver. He said he is facing a possible 10-day suspension for having MathFest and ScienceFest mentioned on Oliver's web site.

"The word is now 'Tighten up, or you've got to go,'" Boykins said. "I don't know what I'm going to do, yet. I haven't made up my mind."

Reached late Friday night, school system Spokesman Charles White said he had no comment concerning Boykins' accusations, or the state board's decision on Oliver's charter application.