Supporters of the Brookhaven Innovation Academy, a proposed public charter school in Brookhaven, were scheduled to present their case to Georgia’s State Charter Schools Commission on July 24. The commission rejected the Brookhaven application last year, so supporters retooled their plans and resubmitted them.
City Councilman Bates Mattison chairs the school’s founding board. The Brookhaven Reporter recently questioned him about the board’s current plans for the school. Here are his answers.
Q: Why create the Brookhaven Innovation Academy?
A. Since the inception of the city of Brookhaven, our city has worked toward improving public school education due to its impact on economic development. In addition to working with DeKalb County School System (DCSS) to improve our existing schools, we realized that providing an independent charter school focused on science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM), using project-based learning would benefit our children and our citizens.
In addition, every DCSS elementary school in our city is over capacity, and Brookhaven is the fasting-growing city in metro Atlanta. Our efforts help DCSS address this capacity issue, while also providing school choice for our children beyond their district attendance
Q: How will Brookhaven benefit from having the new charter school?
A. First, our children will have access to a top-tier education that teaches to the skills required in the 21st century. Second, residents should see increases in their property values due to the availability of excellent public-school education options. Third, our business community will have a more skilled workforce, and Brookhaven will be an evenmore attractive place to start or relocate a business.
Q: Why pursue a state charter for the school rather than backing, as Dunwoody has done, legislative efforts to allow creation of a separate city school system? Are the two city’s efforts in conflict?
A. Our pursuit of the state charter school works in concert with the city school system. While Brookhaven has always supported the legislative efforts to create a city school system, our kids can’t wait for this change. Every year that our charter school is delayed, another hundred kids that could have entered BIA will have missed the opportunity to participate in our “Deeper Learning by Design” curriculum. When the city school system efforts are successful, BIA could be absorbed into this system just as the existing public schools could be.
Q: Who do you think will attend the Brookhaven Innovation Academy?
A. Admission will be by lottery, and I hope that we will have a representative group of kids which mirror the diversity of the city of Brookhaven. Our city’s population is very culturally diverse and our intent is to address the needs of all kids who desire an innovative education focused on project-based learning.
Q: Has the plan to allow statewide enrollment through online courses been dropped? If so, why? If not, what benefit do you see from the online courses?
A. The State Charter School Commission (SCSC) gave feedback last year that providing an exclusively online education in addition to the “bricks and mortar” was too complicated for a start-up school. To address those very real concerns, BIA decided to focus all of our energy at this time on a campus-based model. We are still utilizing blended learning by combining online resources with classroom instruction, but that is only being offered to students that are attending the physical campus.
Q: The new school will emphasize science, technology and math. What does that mean for the students? The teachers? The community?
A. These subjects, known as STEAM, address the skills needed and sought after by employers in the 21st century. In addition to science, technology, engineering and math, our focus includes “A” for arts. Creativity and critical thinking are extremely important skills, which we hope to build at BIA. Our teachers will be complimenting the core curriculum with an innovative, project-based learning strategy as well as providing an individualized learning curriculum for every child.
Q: How does the board intend to be “innovative” with the new school?
A. Having established the mission of the school, including the innovative curriculum focus, the board’s role will be focused on school governance. While this founding board will have many tasks to get the school started, our primary responsibility will be setting the school policies while providing oversight, leadership and guidance to our BIA school
Q: How will it differ from Brookhaven’s existing elementary and middle schools?
A. Our use of blended learning as a core curriculum combined with the integration of computer coding and STEAM-based, project-based learning is unique to education in this area. Many of our existing schools provide some component of project-based learning, but BIA uses this focus as a core component of our Deeper Learning by Design strategy.
We will be utilizing the Compass blended-learning system, which allows personalized computer-based learning hand-in-hand with direct instruction. Many individual components of our plan can be found in some of our existing schools, but BIA’s focus and curriculum have been built around these high-tedch learning strategies.
Q: What’s the planned relationship between the school and the city government? Recently, City Council authorized the purchase of a state building on Skyland Drive that could be used to house the new school (or perhaps for a future City Hall); if the building houses the academy, will the city be more than the school’s landlord? What else do you think the city will be required to spend on the school?
A. The city of Brookhaven authorized the purchase of the old Skyland Elementary building, which currently houses the Georgia Vital Records Department. This building would make an excellent location for BIA, if the charter school is approved. There are no current plans for the city’s participation in BIA other than acting as a landlord, if the city chooses to lease the building to this school.
The city of Brookhaven will make every effort to support BIA, just as we hope to support all of our public schools in Brookhaven. If BIA is allowed to lease the Skyland property, I expect the terms of the lease to be market-based and the build-out of the property to be handled by Brookhaven Innovation Academy.
For more: brookhaven.education/index.html