Parents seek alternative with charter school

By Greg Gelpi

Joshua Brown said that he is "disgusted" with Clayton County Public Schools, and he is looking for an alternative.

Brown and his wife, Sharon, were among about 50 parents who attended an informational meeting Thursday night to learn more about the county's first charter school, seeking an alternative to traditional public education.

Sharon Brown said the school system is the only reason that the couple have decided to put their house up for sale in an attempt to leave the county, her husband likening their children's current schools to a "jungle."

Patricia Lewis, the founder and chief executive officer of the Lewis Academy of Excellence, introduced the parents to her formula, which she hopes will put charter school students ahead of traditional Clayton County public school students in three years.

According to the school's charter, the school will outperform traditional public schools in three years on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.

The school would also provide a unique environment, which would include school uniforms, days that last an additional 30 minutes, and class on some Saturdays prior to the CRCT.

Darlene Times, who said she is seeking better opportunities for her child, said that she was impressed with Lewis' presentation, but said that "major" questions remain, namely that of the site of the school, which is scheduled to open in August.

Lewis said that school officials are working to close a deal on a "state-of-the-art" facility, and that all will be in place for the start of school.

Trena Morris, whose daughter attends Jackson Elementary School, pre-enrolled her child Thursday night, citing the "excellent" vision and philosophy outlined by Lewis.

Lewis explained that academics will be the priority of the academy, but leadership and character training will also be employed.

Another key difference would be required service hours by parents. Single parents would be required to volunteer a minimum of 15 hours a year at the school, and two-parent homes would be required to volunteer 20 hours by each parent.

"We intend to be a ray of hope for Clayton County community children and families," said Lewis, a 35-year veteran of education and former charter school principal.

The school is open to all kindergarten through fifth-grade students in Clayton County and will have opportunities in dance, athletics, gifted classes, foreign language and a traveling choir, she said. The charter school could also feature a "visiting scholars" program, and she has already contacted a personal friend, actor Chris Tucker's mother, to get him onboard.

Despite efforts to educate the public about charter schools, many still don't fully understand what they are or how they function.

"There is a great misperception by many people that charter schools are public schools, which is not true," said Philip Andrews, the executive director of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. "They are approved by the public school system and, in fact, are part of the public school system, but operate differently."

Public school officials must recognize that not every student is successful in a traditional public school, Andrews said.

The combination of "flexibility" and "heightened accountability" produce a unique environment in a charter school, he said.

"The flexibility allows you to design a program that meets the needs of the community," Andrews said, adding that the flexibility is balanced by accountability. "You must keep your customers happy because they can go somewhere else."