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Lewis Academy celebrates classroom expansion

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Lewis Academy of Excellence students will sing, cheer and release more than 600 balloons today as the Riverdale-based charter school holds a ribbon cutting ceremony for its new 14-classroom expansion.

Lewis Academy Founder Patricia Lewis said the ceremony, which will begin at noon, is scheduled to include remarks from herself, Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon, State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale), and Georgia Charter Schools Association Chief Executive Officer Tony Roberts.

The Clayton County Chamber of Commerce will oversee the ribbon cutting for the new building, according to the chamber's web site.

Lewis Academy of Excellence, a kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school is in its fifth school year of operation. It was Clayton County's first charter school when it opened in 2005. It has occupied the 28-acre former Woodward Academy Busey Campus, at 8009 Carlton Road in Riverdale, since 2007, but it needed additional classroom space to meet enrollment demands, according to the school's founder.

"Our enrollment has [nearly] tripled since our first year," Lewis said. "We had approximately 250 students when we opened. We now have an enrollment of 635 students. If this building had been ready at the beginning of the school year, we would have had more students. We had to turn students away, because we did not have space for them at the time."

According to Lewis, the school's new classroom building, which she said cost approximately $300,000, has a lunchroom, gymnasium and office space, in addition to the 14 classrooms.

Lewis Academy Principal Zandra Perrymon said the structure is a modular structure, but it differs from traditional modular classrooms in that it is designed to house several classrooms. It is located across from the school's playground.

Perrymon said the 14 new classrooms are capable of housing 270 students, and the school will put second-grade, third-grade and fourth-grade students in the building. "Every class will have a restroom, and there will also be a cafeteria and a gymnasium in the building, so there will be no need, really, for the students to leave that building during the school day," Perrymon said.

Even with the new building, Lewis Academy will still be crunched for space, its founder said. "That [new] building is already full," Lewis said. Perrymon added that she expects enrollment will top 700 students during the 2010-2011 school year, because the academy currently has larger kindergarten and first grades than its higher grades, and she expects grade sizes will continue to grow as the younger students grow older.

"We have seven kindergarten classes, and seven first-grade classes, but we only have five second-grade classes, so -- assuming all of those first-graders return next year -- we will need to add two second-grade classes next year," Perrymon said.

Lewis and Perrymon point to the school's academic reputation as one reason why the enrollment continues to grow. Lewis said the school has met the Adequate Yearly Progress mandate of the federal No Child Left Behind Act every year it has been in existence.

Perrymon said another factor is that the school is offering an increasing array of activities for its students. In addition to having a school chorus, a creative cooking course and an after-school program, Lewis Academy has added a cheerleading squad and a co-ed basketball team this fall.

"A lot of it is word of mouth," said Lewis. "The parents are so pleased with the school, that they are telling other parents about the school. The biggest advertisement you can have is parents telling other parents how good your school is."