The State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia on Aug. 27 denied the petition for Brookhaven Innovation Academy, a charter school planned by Brookhaven’s city council that had also received the support of the DeKalb County School System.
However, Bonnie Holliday, the commission’s executive director, said she is encouraging the school to reapply for next year.
“The SCSC staff is very supportive of the board’s efforts, and we are committed to working with them over the course of the next year to strengthen their petition and improve their capacity for the 2015 application cycle,” she said in an e-mail.
At a District 3 town hall meeting on Aug. 25, Councilman Bates Mattison said if the school wasn’t approved this year the city would try again for next year.
“Even if we have to move it to get approved next year, we’re dedicated to making sure . . . there are educational options here in Brookhaven,” he said at the town hall. “This school is really intended to embrace disadvantaged kids, particularly on Buford Highway, and get them into high-skilled, high-tech jobs for the future and we bel that we’ve got a good petition to be able to do that. So we’ll get there eventually.”
He said he understands that the state commission is nervous about approving new schools and is encouraged by the fact that three of the four charters they approved this year were denials from last year.
“My perception is they like to move very slowly and we moved very quickly,” he said.
The commission’s staff had notified the city on Aug. 18 that it would recommend denial of the charter school, citing concerns that the application didn’t demonstrate a cohesive plan for a consistent educational program, didn’t provide a governance structure with clear authority, didn’t provide any detail on how the school would meet the needs of students with disabilities and that its proposed attendance zone was inconsistent with state law.
Following the notification, Brookhaven’s city council petitioned for more time to work with staff on those concern, asking the commission to wait until its September meeting to make a decision about the school.
Mayor J. Max Davis responded to each of the commission staff’s concerns in a letter dated Aug. 20 that explained why he thought the school’s plan for its educational model was clear and that explained that the school’s board would hire professionals with clear authority.
He also stated the need for better educational opportunities in the city.
“First, as the mayor and city council of Brookhaven, we are acutely aware of the need to offer quality educational options to our residents,” the letter stated. “We recognize that Brookhaven has a significant educational challenge. The only public high school physically located in Brookhaven . . . is Cross Keys’ unfortunately, its graduation rate is 43%.”
In July, DeKalb Schools Superintendent Michael Thurmond wrote a letter in support of the school to the commission.
“Overall, the district supports the inaugural operation of this progressive statewide charter school in DeKalb County,” the letter read, describing the school’s proposal to teach computer language coding to students in kindergarten through 12th grade as “impressive and admirable.”
During the Aug. 1 hearing, a lot of the commission’s questions to the city council centered around the councilmembers’ ability to handle the double duty of running both a city and a school.
Councilmembers said the key would be finding the right people to run the school’s day-to-day operations, just like they did for the city.
“Our experience as city council men and women lends a great deal of experience to what we’re charged to do as members of the governing board of Brookhaven Innovation Academy,” Mattison said at the hearing.
The school proposal, first unveiled in May at Brookhaven’s City Hall, calls for the school to be operated by a non-profit governed by a board whose members would be appointed by Brookhaven City Council. The board also would include representatives of parents and the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce and could include a representative of the DeKalb school board. The school, like other charter schools, would be financed through school taxes. City officials have said no city money would be spent on operating the school, but about $300,000 to $400,000 is needed to start the school, with that money coming from the state and private foundations.