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Pataula Charter receives panel recommendation

EDISON -- After nearly a year of work, Pataula Charter Academy supporters learned they are one step closer to opening a 340-student Bluffton school for grades kindergarten through fifth starting in August 2010.

Pataula was one of five charter schools out of 28 petitions that were recommended for approval by a panel of state administrators and charter school experts late Thursday night. It was the only non-Atlanta area proposed charter.

The seven-member Georgia Charter School Commission will vote on whether to approve the recommendations in a Monday morning meeting in Atlanta.

"Nothing is finalized until that vote," said Kylie Holley, chairman of the founding Pataula Charter Academy.

Added Georgia Charter Schools Association Director of Communications Seth Coleman: "It does look favorable to them. Based on the fact that the panel that reviewed their petition recommended it for approval by the commission that does bode well for them."

Yet even with the proposed charter school's final approval still in the

air, Holley said the recommendation for approval was significant.

"(It's) surreal, it really is. It's amazing. It's been about a year since we started the whole process," said Holley, the planned school's principal. "(We're receiving) a very, very good response (from the community). As we're getting closer, we're getting more and more people to get involved. I get more people every day. I've gotten probably 15-20 e-mails from people that have decided they wanted to (either) enroll their kids, or get more information or show their interest. A lot of people (teachers) wanting jobs."

Pataula Charter Academy aims to give parents a change from their under-performing public schools in Baker, Calhoun, Clay, Early and Randolph counties. Poor test scores and school attendance are some of the reasons cited for the need to provide a regional charter school.

Calhoun and Early county high schools didn't achieve Adequate Yearly Progress from 2003-04 to 2007-08 school years. However, all three Early County schools made AYP for the 2008-09 school year.

The five counties academic achievements were particularly low in math, social studies and science, according to Pataula Charter Academy information. Also, all of the five counties have a higher percentage of students with more than 15 days of being absent than the state average.

Holley said she has not spoken to public school officials in Baker, Calhoun, Clay, Early and Randolph counties.

"We really, really hope to create a relationship with the local public schools," she said. "Hopefully, we'll have things to offer them and they'll have things to offer us, and we'll have a good relationship."

Sarina Russotto, Ben Scafidi and Cynthia Searcy made up the interview panel. The panel was particularly impressed with the proposed constructivist, project-based learning approach. This learning approach is currently not available in the five-county area. It noted that: "The petitioning groups intend to contract with Expeditionary Learning Schools to provide staff development and training to implement the educational plan."

The panel also was impressed that Pataula's geographic area "has the potential to benefit significantly from a public education option." It also applauded the group's fundraising efforts and ability to secure donations