DeKalb Parents Consider Forming State’s First High School Charter Cluster

Credit Nick Nesmith/WABE News
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 Several metro Atlanta school districts contain charter schools. They’re public schools that operate on a charter, the terms of which are agreed on by educators and parents. Charter schools typically have more flexibility when it comes to curriculum and how money is spent. Now, some DeKalb County parents want to create Georgia’s first High School Charter Cluster.

Although the option has been available for a while, no Georgia school district has formed a charter cluster yet.  

The proposed cluster includes Druid Hills High School and the middle and elementary schools that feed into it. The charter would apply to all seven schools in the cluster. Parent and Druid Hills school council president Matthew Lewis says the charter will include a program model students will follow from Pre-K to 12th grade.

“When a student shows up in middle school, the chances are very, very high that that student shows up having come from a program that the middle school instructional staff is aware of and probably participated in the development of,” Lewis says, “And that gives them an advantage when it comes time to teach them.” 

The group hasn’t decided on specific models yet. But Lewis says possibilities include creating educational tracks and expanding a Montessori program.

Lewis says the action isn’t a direct result of the recent problems in the DeKalb schools, which include a probationary sanction, and the governor’s replacement of six board members.

“There was nothing specific necessarily in the public attention the district was getting that prompted it,” he says, “But you know, anytime everybody starts studying things, everybody starts getting ideas.”

The group still has some hoops to jump through. 60% of teachers and parents have to approve the plan. If they do, it goes to the DeKalb County school board. If the board says yes, the proposal will still need to be authorized by the state department of education. Morgan Phelps, the state’s program manager for charter schools, says by then, the group will need to have clearly defined their vision.

“They will need to provide specific examples of why they need a charter, why they need that flexibility, why they need those waivers to do what they need to do,” Phelps says.

After reviewing the petition, state officials will make a recommendation to the state board of education. The group would like to open the charter cluster in August of 2014.