By Michael Jacobs

Fulton County Board of Education members had nothing but positive comments after hearing Sept. 9 Sandy Springs Middle School’s pitch to convert to a charter school.

Sandy Springs Middle is petitioning to become a charter school under Principal Kay Walker, whose success in her three years at the school received praise from the school board.

“It’s nice to see the community returning to supporting public schools,” said board President Julia Bernath, who represents Sandy Springs, including Sandy Springs Middle.

Gail Dean, who also represents the city, complimented Walker on the change in culture at the school after years of negative community feelings. “The buzz in the community has reversed itself,” she said. “I hope that we will approve the charter.”

Walker, PTA President Bettie Lever and physical education/health teacher Saudah Parsons presented the school’s case. The principal said the school has built the positive buzz by creating PRIDE — Producing Responsible Individuals Determined to Excel.

That approach has boosted staff, student and parent morale and positioned Sandy Springs to be the preferred middle school in a community full of private options, Lever said.

“Our goal is to be a real community school where students feel connected, parents feel connected, everyone feels committed, and we are really adding value to our community,” Walker said.

If the school wins approval to become a charter school next year, Fulton County will have a complete charter system in Sandy Springs: All three elementary schools that feed Sandy Springs Middle, Dunwoody Springs, Spalding Drive and Woodland, are charter schools, as is North Springs high school which it feeds.

That seamless transition would provide important continuity for children and their parents and allow stronger connections among the schools, Walker said. “People feel comfortable when there’s continuity and consistency.”

The hope is that such comfort will lead more families to choose public schools, she said.

The Board of Education formally received the Sandy Springs Middle application, as well as petitions for charter renewals from Spalding Drive Charter Elementary and two other charter schools, at its meeting Sept. 18. The board will vote on all four schools Oct. 16. If it approves the charters, the state will make the final decision March 11.

Walker said the charter would allow the school to build on its improvements, from higher test scores and increased parental involvement to a steep drop in discipline referrals.

Enrollment also has risen, and Walker said this year’s sixth-grade class of 288, exceeding projections with 28 more students than last year’s sixth grade, reflects the community’s positive views of the school.

The conversion to a charter school would give Sandy Springs Middle additional flexibility to continue its gains, Walker said, including boosting the student body from 750 to 900 over the five-year charter.