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County's charter schools taking applications for new students

LAWRENCEVILLE - As the number of charter schools in Georgia grows, interest in school choice has also become apparent in Gwinnett County.

The county's two established charter schools are currently accepting applications for new students, and the director of Gwinnett's first start-up charter school said the community's interest has exceeded the number of available spots.

The New Life Academy of Excellence, which currently has 207 students in kindergarten through third-grade, has 72 spaces for incoming kindergartners, said Alphonsa Foward Jr., the school's director. He said the school may add another kindergarten class, because 90 people have applied for the 2008-09 school year.

"The community is greatly interested," Foward said. "Our parents are actively involved in recruiting other parents. We don't do much advertisement. All our advertisement is done by our parents."

Foward said New Life Academy of Excellence is a "public school with a private school atmosphere." Because the school is funded with tax dollars, there is no tuition for students.

Foward said he believes parents are interested in school choice.

"In Georgia, there are quite a few private schools," he said. "With charter schools, parents can still take advantage of their tax dollars.

At the charter school, every student takes Chinese. The school's goal is to help the students become fluent in the language by the time they finish middle school.

Although the school is only approved to add a grade level up to the eighth grade, Foward said parents have said they want the school to offer ninth- through 12th-grades as well.

Meanwhile, a charter high school operated by Gwinnett County Public Schools is accepting applications from eighth-graders through Friday.

The school district does not yet know how many students have applied to the Gwinnett School of Mathematics, Science and Technology, because applications can be submitted to the school or at any of the district's 20 middle schools, said Jorge Quintana, a spokesman for the school district.

The school will accept 250 students into the incoming ninth-grade class. If more than 250 students apply, a lottery will take place on Feb. 15 to determine who can enroll in the school.

The high school gives students the chance to learn about bioscience, engineering and emerging technologies. About 190 freshmen currently attend the school, Quintana said.

Students are required to meet with a counselor as part of the application process. Application packets and more information about the school are available online at www.gsmst.info/index.php.

Information about the New Life Academy of Excellence is available online at www.newlifeacademyga.

com.

SideBar: At a glance

What is a charter school?

Founded by parents, educators, community groups or private organizations, charter schools are essentially deregulated public schools. They are funded with public taxpayer money, and exchange a decrease in regulations and requirements for an increase in accountability.

Source: Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education