BOE has concerns over Academy

By Jeffery Whitfield

Clayton County Public School officials say they have several concerns about the Lewis Academy of Excellence, a Riverdale-based charter school that opened this year.

“Several citizens of the community would like to address the (Lewis Academy of Excellence) board and to this date we have no names to give them,” said Clayton County Board of Education Chairman Ericka Davis.

Clayton County officials questioned the leadership and site preparation of the academy in an update about the school at the board's meeting this week. Officials said the institution had not complied with a request to supply meeting minutes from its governing board, which are reviewed by the school system in accordance with the Lewis Academy's charter and state law. School officials expected to receive board minutes on Aug. 1 and later requested them on Sept. 20 and Oct. 5.

Additionally, the academy does not have operational bathroom and water facilities for two of its four modular units, a date for construction of an exterior ramp for the school is unknown as well as when a fire sprinkler system would be complete.

It is unclear what the future of the academy could be if school officials' concerns are not addressed, though Clayton County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Barbara Pulliam said a recommendation for board members to consider could be made by Nov. 23, the date the academy must obtain a permanent certificate of occupancy. The academy was granted temporary Certificates of Occupancy by the Riverdale Public Works Department and Riverdale Fire Department last summer.

Lewis Academy of Excellence founder Dr. Patricia Lewis did not attend the meeting to respond to school officials' concerns.

“Dr. Lewis was contacted ... She indicated she would not be able to attend tonight's meeting,” Pulliam said.

Davis said Lewis did not believe it was appropriate to discuss issues about the school while members of the news media were present at the meeting.

Repeated calls to Lewis were not returned. A reporter for the News Daily went to the school Wednesday but she was not available to talk.

James Conrad, Clayton County Public Schools director of maintenance, said he was told by Lewis that work to install fire sprinklers had resumed after being recently halted.

Davis also said she was concerned about the safety of students as they walk from the academy to the bathrooms.

“If the building catches fire, they have no way to get out,” she said.

The academy had a total of 236 students enrolled as of Nov. 4, down from the 256 that were enrolled on Oct. 4. Two of the academy's 13 classroom teachers are now certified, in accordance with the school's charter. The school currently has received $400,00 in grant money and $252,600 from local funding. The academy is required to pay $9,681 to the Teacher Retirement System of Georgia. The payments are due Nov. 10.

This is Clayton County's first charter school and approval was given after several years of trying to convince the county school officials that a charter school is needed.