Volunteers from Ashford Park School are forging ahead with efforts to write a charter for the elementary school.
Charter schools are public schools, typically overseen by a community governing board, that have more autonomy from the school system in exchange for more accountability.
A group from Ashford Park has been meeting weekly over the summer to write a charter, outlining the school’s educational objections. They are working to meet an Aug. 15 charter petition deadline imposed by the DeKalb County Board of Education.
Shawn Keefe, an Ashford Park parent who has been heading the school’s charter initiative, said the group’s Thursday meetings typically draw between 35 and 40 parents, teachers, administrators and community residents to work on the charter.
“The petition is going to be 75 pages. There’s a lot that goes into it,” Keefe said.
The volunteers have been dividing into working groups to develop proposals for the areas of curriculum and education, governance and finance, operations, and something Keefe said the group is calling waivers, innovation and autonomy.
Keefe said the group has been working closely with the Georgia Charter Schools Association during the process.
“They have a nice blueprint about what needs to be done,” Keefe said. “It’s been nice to work with them because they’ve been there and done that and worked with other schools. It’s nice to have those connections. We’re not trying to do it all from scratch.”
Keefe said the goal is for Ashford Park to focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, a program that has been billed “STEAM.”
“What we’re trying to implement from the curriculum side of things, is a version of the STEAM program, which is what Chamblee Charter High School’s new charter is being written as,” Keefe said.
Ashford Park feeds into Chamblee Charter High School. Keefe said the idea behind the matching charters is that if Ashford Park’s is approved, students would have early exposure to the STEAM curriculum to better prepare them for high school.
Another aim of the charter is to, “get to more project-based learning, instead of just textbooks all the time,” Keefe said.
The group is aiming to complete the charter petition by July 18, to allow time for two informational community meetings before Ashford Park Elementary School’s scheduled open house on Aug. 7.
Keefe said the group will ask parents and faculty to vote on the charter petition at the annual open house.
“If it’s approved by both parents and faculty at that time we’ll submit it to the county school board for their approval Aug. 15,” Keefe said.
To date, the group has raised about $6,500 of their $10,000 goal.
“We’re raising funds because like everything else in this world, consulting with the Georgia Charter Schools Association comes with a cost,” Keefe said. “We’ve had success doing that, and again that just shows the broad interest in this effort.”
Keefe said the principal and assistant principal of the school have also been active in the meetings.
“It’s been positive. Now that they hear what can be taken off their plates that will enable them to focus more on their classrooms and give their teachers more empowerment, it’s something very interesting and real to them,” Keefe said. “We see a lot of enthusiasm from not only administrators, but teachers as well.”