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School board renews ECCA's charter
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The Effingham County Board of Education is continuing its commitment to having a public, school district-funded charter school in the county.

The school board unanimously approved renewing the charter petition for the Effingham College and Career Academy, a process that is required every five years.

“Once you’re granted a charter, you’re not (automatically) a charter school forever,” said Superintendent Randy Shearouse. “You do have to renew and show results and show progress, and also set new goals for the future.”

The petition now goes to the Georgia Department of Education’s Charter Schools Division for final approval. The ECCA’s current charter doesn’t expire until the end of this year, but school officials wanted to submit the renewal as soon as possible to avoid a logjam with others from around the state seeking approval, said assistant superintendent Greg Arnsdorff.

“I feel like it will be a smooth acceptance, quite honestly,” said Barbara Prosser, CEO of Effingham College and Career Academy. “I’m learning more about charter schools throughout the state, and we’re pretty good.”

Prosser’s optimism stems from the ECCA’s successful track record since opening its doors in August 2010. The College and Career Academy has expanded its course offerings and community partnerships while offering students career pathways in areas such as transportation, culinary arts, health care, engineering, graphic design and drafting and architecture.

One of the ECCA’s goals in its charter renewal is to continue to develop and maintain partnerships with businesses, post-secondary schools and civic organizations to provide hands-on learning opportunities for students. In its three years, ECCA has teamed with Georgia Power, Georgia-Pacific, Gulfstream, the Georgia Ports Authority, Effingham Health System, CST Covers and Freightliner, to name a few.

Students tour local industries during the school year, and business leaders visit ECCA to make presentations. Some even involve ECCA students in projects, such as a T-shirt design contest Georgia-Pacific sponsored last year.

“To me,” Shearouse said, “that’s what it’s all about, is making sure that we establish that relationship with our businesses and industry in the area.”

The Effingham College and Career Academy began the current school year by establishing itself as a state leader in the rapidly-growing logistics industry. ECCA is the first school of its kind in Georgia to offer a logistics management program.

ECCA added the program in response to concerns from local industries about a lack of skilled logistics workers in this region. Logistics instructor Ashley Kieffer is leading the state Department of Education’s effort to expand and modernize the curriculum.

“We are the model for the logistics pathway offering in the state now,” Prosser said. “We’re molding it to what we think business needs.”

ECCA’s goals for the next five years also include increasing its numbers in three key categories: Effingham County graduates whose high school diploma has one or more designated career pathways and an academic focus, students dual-enrolled in technical college programs, and high school juniors and seniors in work-based learning programs. Another plan is to establish a 501(c)3 foundation to receive grant funds and endowments for scholarships for ECCA students to continue their education after high school.

The College and Career Academy’s leadership structure will remain the same as in its original charter.

ECCA is under the umbrella of Effingham County public schools, but is governed by a board of directors made up of local business and education representatives and ECCA teachers, parents and students. Shearouse attends all ECCA board of directors meetings as an ex-officio member and provides feedback to the board of education.

When Georgians voted on a charter school amendment in November, one concern opponents had was that for-profit companies would become too involved in the management of charter schools. However, ECCA’s charter spells out that it has no relationship with an educational management association.

Although ECCA has been in operation for three years, it is due to renew its charter at the end of this year. ECCA’s charter was granted five years ago to give the school district time to secure funding and construct the school for a 2010 opening, Shearouse said.

According to the proposal accepted by the school board, ECCA will serve 450 students next school year and gradually increase enrollment annually to 550 in the final year of the agreement, 2017-18. ECCA will serve grades 9-12, after not having ninth grade included in its original petition.

The Effingham College and Career Academy is open to all students at Effingham County and South Effingham high schools. Carnegie units and high school diplomas are awarded not by the ECCA, but by the students’ home high schools.