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Charter school supporters urge opening

By Johnny Jackson

Amid arduous board business-as-usual Monday, dozens of north Clayton County residents stood and shared their support for the Lewis Academy of Excellence, wielding signs of support and protest.

Ten-year-old Sondresha Mabon, with her Aunt Sondressee Montgomery, held signs in the Clayton County Public Schools Administration parking lot. One read, "Parents Deserve Choice." Another said, "Our Choice Matters."

"We're out in support of the school," Montgomery said, expressing concern about unfavorable portrayals of Clayton County in the media recently. "In a perfect world, (the board) will give the school a chance to prove that we can do positive things for the community."

School founder Patricia Lewis said she plans to obtain a temporary Certificate of Occupancy upon submitting site plans for a fire alarm and fire protection system.

"The school is safe," said Jen Blackburn, attorney to the Lewis Academy of Excellence and founder Patricia Lewis. " We have contracts with a fire alarm company. (Then) the school will be ready to open, Aug. 22."

The charter school was scheduled to open Aug. 8 in two buildings owned by a Riverdale church, but Clayton school officials said they want the buildings certified for occupancy before it is allowed to open.

Marilyn Roberts spoke as a member of the Riverdale Community Development Corporation (CDC), an intermediary between the Riverdale First United Methodist Church, as a professional private-practice counselor, and as a concerned citizen and product of Clayton County Schools.

"I am a 1969 graduate of Jonesboro High School," Roberts said. "I think a charter school is a good alternative to regular public schools, because the emphasis is on education, building integrity and building responsible behavior. Those elements are missing in our school systems now.

"I'm a counselor in private practices. In educating children properly, it's necessary for the parents to be involved with the school. That's required for charter schools."

George Lanier said he thinks the school board should schedule another meeting soon to address the issue of opening the school.

Lanier, senior pastor at Riverdale First United Methodist Church and a member of the Riverdale CDC, adamantly charged that although "there are codes that must be addressed and updated," the school is earnest and hopeful.

"This is not just about an alternative," he said. "This is also about parents who want the best for our children."

Superintendent Barbara Pulliam reiterated that health-safety issues are her utmost concerns about the charter school. She announced this and other concerns to a packed sanctuary of anxious citizens.

"We have worked cooperatively with Dr. Lewis," Pulliam said. "The charter school involves all the children in this county. The performance of the charter school will reflect on Clayton County Schools. (Thus) it is in our best interest to see that a charter school succeeds."

Clayton school officials put off any decision on charter schools for several years, but last year approved having one. A total of about 400 students were accepted for this year and there is a waiting list for certain grades.