BOE to hear update on Lewis Academy of Excellence

By Jeffery Whitfield

The Clayton County Board of Education will hear an update tonight about a Riverdale-based charter school that was the source of several questions by the board in November.

The update will be included in the board's monthly meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m. at the Clayton County Public Schools Administrative Complex, located at 1058 Fifth Avenue in Jonesboro.

Located in renovated church buildings, the Lewis Academy of Excellence opened earlier this year, but board members expressed fears at their meeting last month about the facility's site preparation. Several safety-related issues about the academy such as when a fire sprinkler system would be installed were raised by board members. Founder and CEO Patricia Lewis did not attend the November meeting to answer questions, maintaining in a letter to the board that she did not feel like issues should be answered in a public setting. Lewis also wrote that she could not go because she would be attending a conference.

At the time the academy was operating under a temporary 90-day certificate of occupancy issued by the Riverdale Fire Department.

The academy had until Nov. 23 to complete the work and obtain a final certificate of occupancy from the fire department.

Calls to Lewis, were not returned.

Riverdale Fire Chief Billy Hayes confirmed last week that the final certificate of occupancy had been issued to the academy.

“The sprinkler system is installed,” said Hayes, adding that installation of an alarm system as well as an exterior stairwell and its adjoining door also is complete.

“I am very happy (the school) has gotten their sprinkler system and met requirements for a certificate of occupancy to be put in place,” said Ericka Davis, chairman of the Clayton County Board of Education. “I'm glad they've been able to put in place the necessary requirements to make sure kids are safe.”

But other questions about the academy remain.

Clayton County school officials said last month that the academy's teachers did not meet certification requirements and that documentation of state and federal criminal background checks were not reported about several academy employees.

Lewis said in her letter to the board that she felt school staff had been unfair in their assessment of the academy.

“She felt like she didn't have to come before the board and present progress to the board ... that's not true,” Davis said.

Davis added that questions about Clayton County public schools often are addressed in board meetings.

“That's how a lot of our agenda is made,” she said.

Davis said more open communication by academy officials would improve its relationship with the board.

“That's the only way this relationship will work ... I think this board has done it's part,” she said.

Groups seeking to operate charter schools in Georgia are required to gain approval from local school board officials, according to state law.

Charter school funding is provided by taxpayer dollars because the schools are considered public institutions.