Ashford Park Elementary School officials have submitted letters of intent to the state and DeKalb County stating that they plan to apply to convert the school into a charter school.
Shawn Keefe, co-president of the Ashford Park School Education Foundation, said the letters of intent were submitted May 1. By sending the letters, school officials are declaring they plan to begin drafting a charter, a detailed document that outlines the educational objectives of a school.
Charter schools are public schools that are run by a local governing body, giving them more freedom in curriculum than traditional schools in exchange for greater accountability.
“We believe if we can take some of that decision-making ability and control back to a local level, we can provide students with a better environment for learning,” Keefe said.
Keefe said working toward a charter application for the 2014-2015 school year is important in order to capitalize on the momentum and energy of the community.
“There’s a lot of disappointment in how this county is run, and county leadership should be willing to listen to us if we have some creative ideas for improving it,” Keefe said.
Keefe and a group of other parents and stakeholders decided to apply following discussions at an April 24 community meeting featuring charter school advocates. During the meeting at Ashford Park, people interested in converting the elementary school into a charter school gathered to listen to a panel of charter advocates talk about the benefits of charter schools and what is involved in attaining charter status.
When Georgia Charter Schools Association Executive Vice President Andrew Lewis asked a group of Ashford Park Elementary School parents if they felt they could improve the already high-performing school if they had more control, the answer was a resounding “Yes.”
“Charter schools are not a silver bullet for education reform. But it is another tool in a tool belt that needs more tools,” Lewis said.
There are different types of charter schools, members of the panel said.
Conversion charters are traditional schools that have received approval for a charter, a detailed document outlining objectives. An independent charter school is a new charter school that often has more independence from the state and local school district.
Glenn Delk, a Buckhead attorney and charter school advocate, said independent charters typically have more flexibility than conversion charters. “Most conversion charters don’t have nearly the autonomy they need,” Delk said.
Rich Thompson, a charter school advocate who founded the organization 100 Dads, said though there are different models, he pushed Ashford Park parents to demand as much control as possible over their school.
“It really doesn’t matter which one you choose. I want to make sure at the end of the day, parents have the final say-so,” Thompson said.
Beverly Moon, a Chamblee Charter High School parent, encouraged the Ashford Park group to consider a focus on science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. Ashford Park Elementary feeds into Chamblee Charter High School, which has a charter that emphasizes STEM courses. “We have a great opportunity to become a cluster of STEM-certified schools,” Moon said.
Also in attendance at the meeting was Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven. He told the group he supports their charter application.
“Ashford Park, I think, is an outstanding candidate for a charter conversion school,” Jacobs said.