Academy continues preparations, despite board vote

By Johnny Jackson

Patricia Lewis and her administrative staff are continuing preparations to open the Lewis Academy of Excellence in Riverdale.

Thursday, the Clayton County Board of Education voted unanimously on a recommendation to revoke a three-part charter contract among the State Department of Education, Clayton County Public Schools Board of Education, and the Lewis Academy of Excellence charter school.

According to District V Board Member Rod Johnson, the charter school will have to return to the board and submit a Certificate of Occupancy.

"I think it's just a matter of the Lewis Academy not having the proper documentation," Johnson said. "We have to make sure that all of these children are receiving the best education possible.

"I definitely believe the board will consider allowing the school to go forward. But the school board has to prepare itself for the students."

Johnson explained that the recommendation precludes making sure that resources and education are available for all students in the district, in the event that the charter school does not open.

"It's better for us to be proactive and address this matter in the event that we have to accommodate those students that are supposed to attend the Lewis Academy of Excellence," Johnson said. "They have done some outstanding things to get to this point.

"We need to collaboratively work to make sure the Lewis Academy gets its doors open to students."

"The parents want to see the school open. They're excited and motivated," said Dionne Thompson, Lewis Academy of Excellence board member. "(And) Certification of Occupancy is the next step.

"This place is going to be awesome," she said, gesturing holy. "Look at the ground the school is on; it can be nothing but safe here."

Lewis Academy of Excellence Founder Patricia Lewis said she expects the school to open.

Lewis said, next week, her architect and attorney will meet with the fire marshal and building inspectors to determine if the Riverdale First United Methodist Church has met code standards for charter schools in the state of Georgia.

As a volunteer workers and general contractors busily worked around her, Lewis said she is optimistic that the school will open.

"We're just trying to make a mark in the community," she said, pointing out the sturdy masonry work in the buildings.

"We're trying to empower the community," Thompson said. "For once here we are. This school will open."

If Lewis obtains a Certificate of Occupancy soon, she may have an opportunity to present it to the BOE at its next meeting on Aug. 1, and inevitably open the Lewis Academy of Excellence.

After years of opposing a charter school, board members gave the green light for the school. It is open to students from across the county, but each must apply. Lewis said about 400 are expected to attend the first year, with a waiting list for some grades.

Supporters of charter schools say it provides discipline, character building and an emphasis on academics. Lewis has said she expects few, if any major discipline problems.