The current advocates of eliminating state restrictions on new city school systems in infant-aged Dunwoody are showing how quickly a revolutionary paradigm (that of forming new cities) in the Georgia General Assembly can evolve and grow.
Although many have speculated Dunwoody’s cityhood efforts were always envisioned as a one-two punch eventuating with city schools legislation, the dueling media dramas of DeKalb County’s school board and CEO’s investigation have created public zealotry over defining community independence in terms of city and school inseparability. One question may arise however: Does a city need complete school secession from a county system in areas that may have a plethora of choice schools in the near future?
Along the I-85 Atlanta northeast corridor (Lakeside, Tucker and Druid Hills), March may be witness to an uptick in public engagement over a Lakeside City at the very time charter schools are coming in to join the corridor’s existing choices: solidly backed neighborhood schools, private schools and emerging special programs such as STEMs and IBs.
Within weeks of the affirmative vote to install a Georgia Charter School Commission, The Globe Academy received state approval to open a “dual language immersion” school in August at former Heritage Elementary School near Lakeside High School. A second new choice, one founded by local residents, Tapestry Public Charter School announced an offering beneficial to autistic students. Globe is taking applications through March 6 for an August opening and Tapestry will submit its required charter petition to the county school system in May, hoping to open in August 2014. Tapestry may not locate in the immediate vicinity of the corridor.
At a Feb. 2 information session at Toco Hill-Avis G. Williams Library, Globe founder and board chair Brandy Biscoe-Kenner said her academy will offer “tracks” in French, Spanish and Mandarin initially to nearly 400 students in grades K-3. The session was attended in three shifts by nearly 100 families that appeared to be “from all over” according to a neighbor who attended the first shift. Globe will eventually serve all grades with 1,100 students – maximizing in six years – furnished with $4 million in nonprofit funds. Globe’s intention is to have an 11-to-1 student/teacher ratio.
Tapestry Charter’s vision is smaller than Globe. It will start as a middle school and add a high school years later with ultimately a total of 168 students, 24 per grade, designed for a 6:1 “core” student-teacher ratio (dependent on grants in excess of tax funds). Tapestry is publicized to be a school that would be well-suited to students on the “autism spectrum," although by law it must serve a general audience. No location for the school has been identified.
Tonna Harris-Bosselmann has a son with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the sixth grade at Henderson Middle School.
“ASD students are often underserved in traditional middle schools (the initial grade levels destined for Tapestry)," says the educator.
She also said there are no guarantees any or many autistic students will apply and/or win in a lottery if required. A state commission variance would be required to allocate student slots. With no or few students with disabilities at
a given time, the school becomes a school with a population like any other, albeit smaller with a specialized curriculum.
One of the concerns raised nationally about the proliferation of fully funded charter schools is their attraction to areas already proven to be successful academically with strong neighborhood support. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution study indicated many low-income families had yet to tap into the charter schools under the current partial funding regime. Globe’s executive director
says she chose DeKalb first, then the Briarcliff area more for the ease of access to a diverse audience and location than its local population or a replacement for any one school zone.
As to Tapestry’s relation to the northeast Atlanta corridor, the founder from Evansdale said in an e-mail, “We are in the process of touring a variety of locations (and) will likely stay in a temporary building for the first two or three years.”
Globe’s information sheet expresses a commitment to students of “different cultural and linguistic background and socioeconomic levels.”
Founder Ms. Kenner, bilingual in French and English and an early childhood education specialist, stated in writing, “The GLOBE Academy is purposefully and intentionally reaching out to the entire DeKalb County school district community for perspective students.”
Asked about a possible problem with some families having no ride to school, Kenner said the school is working with their partnering organizations to use
vans or buses.
Meanwhile, news about Globe has travelled fast in nearby neighborhoods. Henderson Mill resident Reid Lockwood attended the Feb. 2 meeting. Lockwood says he likes the small class sizes mentioned at the Globe Academy information session, but was not specific about the school’s specialty, dual language immersion. The construction foreman for Habitat for Humanity admitted his concern about student transiency or “mobility rate” at the local elementary school, a newly designated Georgia STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school.
Transiency deals with students that enroll after teachers are hired and assigned and leave prior to year end.
Neither of the new schools will be managed by an outside entity and will only have employees hired directly by the school’s board of directors.