Clayton BOE approves new Unidos charter

By Curt Yeomans


Unidos Dual Language Charter School parent, Lorraine Lynch-Bernard, said she is about five weeks away from giving birth to her fourth child, a daughter. She said she is happy that the unborn child will likely have a bilingual setting, to spend the first nine years of her education career.

Wednesday, the Clayton County Board of Education approved, by an 8-0 vote, a new, five-year charter for Unidos, which allows it to expand to the middle-school grades. Board member, Trinia Garrett, was absent from the meeting, because, according to several other board members, she was at a relative's funeral.

Unidos' current charter is scheduled to expire at the end of the 2010-2011 school year.

Lynch-Bernard, who is the vice chairperson of Unidos' school council, said she was relieved to see the board approve a new charter, because she believes it will allow her children to go to the school for years to come. She has two sons, who attend the school -- one a fifth-grader, the other in pre-kindergarten. She also has a 2-year-old daughter.

She said she plans to send all of her children to Unidos. Students at the school learn in English and Spanish.

"I do believe this is the best school in the county," Lynch-Bernard said. "To be able to compete in today's society, they [her children] have to be able to learn more than one language. That's just one more advantage they'll have over their peers when they grow up."

Now that the local school board has signed off on Unidos' new charter petition, the Forest Park-based school has one more hurdle to clear to get that charter -- the approval of the Georgia Department of Education, and the State Board of Education.

Dell Giles, the school's founder and dual language coordinator, said the school has until Nov. 1, to forward its petition to the Georgia Department of Education for review. That state department will make a recommendation, for approval or denial to the State Board of Education, she said.

Giles said the charter petition is essentially the same as the school's original charter, except it now lists the school as a pre-kindergarten-through eighth-grade institution. Under the original charter, it is a pre-kindergarten- through fifth-grade school. She said the idea of expanding Unidos to the middle school grades has been in the works for a couple of years.

"We started the discussions with the school council, and the parents, two years ago, when we realized this was something the parents wanted," Giles said.

Another change will be the addition of two more kindergarten classes, school principal, Nancy Said, said last week.

Clayton School Superintendent Edmond Heatley told the county's school board members that Unidos' middle school students would be taught in a separate location from the elementary school students. He previously told school board members, on Oct. 4, this would be necessary because of space constraints at the school's current location, Hendrix Drive Elementary School.

"We're going to use the school-within-a-school model, which means the students in grades six, through eight, will not be taught at the same location as the elementary school students," Heatley said. "They'll move to one of our local middle schools."

Giles said a decision has not yet been made about which middle school will be used to house the Unidos students. She said they were happy to see the Clayton school board approve a new charter, though.

"I'm very, very excited" about the charter petition approval, Giles said. She later added that the school has "exceeded my expectations. The level of achievement, by the students, is beyond where we would expect it to be. We also have a strong commitment from our parents, for this type of education."

School board member, Jessie Goree, said it was important for the board to renew the school's charter, because it works as a two-way street. It can help English-speaking students learn how to speak Spanish, but it can also help Spanish-speaking students learn English, she said.

"We do have a large Hispanic population in the school system, and this helps our Spanish-speaking students to be bilingual," she said. "We're in a world, now, where you have to speak multiple languages to be successful in life."