School board passes new partnership plan

DULUTH - The Gwinnett County Board of Education on Wednesday unanimously approved the school system's plan to allow schools to seek freedom from some state mandates in exchange for increased accountability in student achievement.

The school board met Wednesday morning in a special-called meeting at Shorty Howell Park to vote on the district's Investing in Educational Excellence (IE2) Partnership Contract's strategic plan, which will now be sent to the state Board of Education for approval.

A handful of parents attended the meeting, some of whom questioned the district's process in creating the plan.

"The vote really should have been delayed," Mill Creek cluster parent Joy Towslee said, adding that the meeting was held at a time inconvenient for parents and teachers who still have questions about how their schools will be affected. "They pushed it to make the vote this month. It was already decided, without involvement from the community."

The school board's special-called meeting followed one with Gwinnett's legislative delegates, who gathered at Shorty Howell Park's activity building to hear requests from county officials, including Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks.

"For several years, we have expressed our interest in being one of the first systems to implement an IE2 Partnership Contract," Gwinnett County Public Schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said. "We are excited about the opportunities it could provide - opportunities that would benefit our students, teachers and district. Our process to develop and adopt the strategic plan - the initial stage of implementing a Partnership Contract - has been thorough and it was ready for board approval.

"The next stages have budget implications for which we need to be ready," she added. "We hope to have a decision from the state before we begin our budget-setting process in February."

If the state Board of Education approves the strategic plan, local schools will work with the community to develop plans outlining the flexibilities they would like to be granted and their yearly goals to meet the required accountability.

"The exciting work begins now at the local school level (assuming the plan is approved by the state)," said Daniel Seckinger, the school board's vice chairman.

School board member Mary Kay Murphy said the community "must be involved to a great level" as local school plans are developed.

"All must be involved," Murphy said. "When that is accomplished, we will have a program that is ... second to none."

Board chairwoman Carole Boyce said the idea behind the partnership contract is to improve student achievement.

"We see this as a huge vehicle to let the local schools make decisions to improve student achievement," she said.

Jennifer Falk, education chairwoman for the Gwinnett branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the organization will be working to ensure the development of local school plans is a transparent process.

"The board and superintendent have made it very clear that the process will include opportunities for community input and that we welcome that input as the process moves to the school level," Roach said. "We expect teachers, school council members, PTA and other community members to be a part of the dialogue in determining how flexibility is implemented at the local schools."