State BOE grants Unidos' charter renewal

The State Board of Education voted unanimously, Thursday, to renew the Forest Park-based Unidos Dual Language Charter School, for another five years.

School officials say they plan to expand the grade levels offered to students.

"We are very pleased we will be able to continue offering services at Unidos to the families in our county," said Clayton County Public Schools Spokesman Charles White. "We have a large Spanish-speaking population. It was important to address the needs of the community," he said.

The Clayton County Board of Education had approved the Unidos Dual Language Charter School petition on Oct. 13, 2010, including the school's request to expand from strictly an elementary school, to also add middle grades.

The state's approval means students will not have to switch schools after the elementary grades. They will be able to continue their education at Unidos.

Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Edmond Heatley has been supportive of the charter school's renewal request and its expansion. He recommended that the county's board of education back the school's plans last October.

The Unidos Dual Language Charter School is the first, and only, school in the district set up to teach students in two languages. The school allows Spanish-speaking students to learn in English, and English-speaking students are able to learn in Spanish.

It opened in August of 2006, and, in the beginning, was only available to kindergartners and first-graders. A grade level was added each year, and the school eventually reached an enrollment of more than 450 students.

Unidos Principal Nancy Said has said, in the past, that expanding to eighth-grade would not lead to an unmanageable increase in the number of students at the school. Under it's initial charter, Unidos was designed to eventually accommodate up to 500 students. She predicted an expansion to the middle grades would, at the most, increase the school's enrollment 300 students.

She said such an increase may barely be more than what Unidos was designed to hold. "It [enrollment] would probably be 600 to 700, maybe 800," she said.

In addition to expanding to middle-school grades, she said, the only other change in the new charter petition is the addition of two more kindergarten classes.

The charter school seeks to increase student achievement engaging students through the use of dual-language education, which is reflected in their performance in core, academic areas. Students learn to read, write, and speak English and Spanish, while, also, learning about other cultures.

"It's been reported, and research shows, that students, who learn a second language, do better in school," said White.

The school has established rigorous performance-based goals and measurable objectives to improve student achievement that directly relates to increased performance on the Criterion-Reference Competency Test (CRCT). Students generally take the test about a month before the school year ends each year. The CRCTs, to a large degree, determine whether a student will advance to the next grade level, and if a school will make Adequate Year Progress (AYP), based on measurements set out the state, as outlined in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

During the first charter term, the school made AYP each year, according to the Department of Georgia Education's web site.

In previous statements, Unidos Student Council President Lorraine Lynch-Bernard said parents of students at the school have expressed a high level of loyalty to the school, and the bilingual education their children receive.

Lynch-Bernard added that parents are pleased to have an opportunity to continue that type of education beyond the fifth-grade.

Unidos has just completed it's first five-year term, and the new charter will run for another five years, from July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2016.