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Columbia Missourian

Autonomous schools can tailor seven components

By Caitlyn Kolakowski
January 11, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — If Lee Elementary is allowed to transition to an autonomous school, it will have seven components to tailor to its needs.

Principal Karen Burger said that overall, these seven components would give Lee the autonomy to create the learning environment it envisions for its students.

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They are:

Lee Elementary’s curriculum and classes would be the same as other Columbia Public Schools. However, all subjects taught at Lee would be art-based.

"There will be more art integration in those subjects to help students grasp that there are connections between the arts and math or science," Burger said.

In an attempt to include more of the school’s stakeholders in this process, Lee would  organize a group of parents, Partners in Education, teachers and administrators to discuss the best options for the school and what changes would serve the best interests of student learning.

Beyond the ability to schedule its own start and end time, Lee would have the freedom to devote parts of its daily schedule to specific art interest areas.

"We may add a drama component," Burger said, "We do not have drama even though we are fine arts. We also may add a dance component because we don’t have that right now, either."

Lee would not receive any more money in its budget if it becomes an autonomous school. However, the school would have the flexibility to move money to the areas where it would be deemed most beneficial.

Autonomous schools are held accountable to the assessment requirements of the rest of the district.

"We still have to take the state test, the Common Core test and the Smarter Balance test," Burger said. "We still have to teach the curriculum and still be held accountable to the Board of Education."

However, Lee can decide the way in which students there are taught the curriculum and the approach teachers take to prepare students for assessments.

Currently, Lee is 50 percent neighborhood school students and 50 percent students who were admitted through a lottery.

"If a parent knows their student learns better through fine arts, they can put their name in the lottery," Burger said. "They can go to Lee when they might not have been able to before this system."

Ridgeway also uses a lottery system in its admission. The autonomous school structure allows the schools to maintain control over the way in which they admit students.

The establishment of the governance board at Lee would allow for wider communication among its teachers, parents, administrators and its Partners in Educations.

"Communication with the school as a whole, I think, is going to open up when you have a board of people working together to do what is best for the students," Burger said.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.