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School board to review charter school

By Greg Gelpi

School board members growing antsy about the county's first charter school have started talks about how long the school system is obligated to the charter.

Amidst its budget talks, members of the Clayton County Board of Education discussed the $2.3 million set aside for the Lewis Academy of Excellence. The charter school is scheduled to open its doors to students in August, but as of yet has no facility.

"We still haven't announced (securing a facility) yet, but we are hoping to soon," said Patricia Lewis, the founder and chief executive officer of the charter school. "God hasn't brought us this far to leave us."

Board members, though, want a better understanding of the school's status and search for a facility. The school board will get an update on the charter school tonight during its monthly meeting. The meeting is set for 7 p.m. in the Administrative Complex, 1058 Fifth Ave., Jonesboro.

"I think we need some direct quote from (Lewis) about where she stands," Board Member Allen T. Johnson said, adding that a lack of a facility raises a "red flag."

Board Chairwoman Ericka Davis said that the board should consider a policy regarding charter schools, a policy that could include a "timeline on preparation and startup for a charter school."

Lewis said that she has until June to secure a facility according to her charter with the school system, but the system's superintendent acknowledges that the school may not be open on time.

"We are not prepared to give money to the school until we know they have a site and students in the school," Clayton County schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam said during a recent budget meeting. "The truth of the matter is that those children could end up in our schools."

Charter schools are privately run schools that are publicly funded.

Lewis Academy 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, Lewis said. The charter school could also feature a "visiting scholars" program.

Although the school is free, single parents will have to volunteer 15 hours each year at the school, and two-parent homes will have to contribute 20 hours of volunteer work, Lewis said.

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.

The school board could also tentatively adopt the fiscal year 2006 budget, which has the $2.3 million set aside for the charter school.