The Douglas County Board of Education is considering a letter of intent and petition to open Mount Vernon Integrative Arts Academy (MVIAA), a new charter school proposal that was on the agenda during its May 15 meeting.
This is the second charter school petition that has come before the board within the past few weeks.
According to Pam Nail, chief academic officer for the school system, the charter petition was submitted in April and is currently under review and will be presented for approval or denial at the July 17 Board of Education meeting.
The petition was submitted and signed by Jennifer Richardson, who is currently employed at Colonial Hills Christian School in Lithia Springs and Marcy Simmons, who owns Integrative Arts Creations, Inc. which would hold the charter if granted.
Simmons has been a music educator for the past 22 years, with 18 of those years in the Atlanta Public School System.
According to the letter of intent, if approved, the new charter school would open for the 2018-2019 school year, serving students in grades K-9, and increasing to grade 12 by 2022. The expected initial enrollment would consist of 300 students, increasing to a full enrollment of 500 students by the 2022 school year.
Simmons said the idea of opening a charter school has been her dream for the last five or six years, but the proposed charter school board has been working on the charter petition since February.
Why this and why now?
“Colonial Hills is closing,” said Simmons. “My child and the secretary’s child are students there. We did not want the school to go under and are making an effort to keep the building and help children in the area.”
The prospective charter school’s approach would be integrative, explained Simmons, using the arts as a means by which the children learn.
“We are using the arts to teach other subject matter,” she said. “With a charter, we can design our own curriculum. If you’re going to a regular public school, the curriculum is designed by the board, as is how you implement it.”
Simmons described the integrative art approach as “a merging of all subjects that makes it relative and applicable to many areas."
Simmons said they elected not to go the route of becoming a private school because “every child cannot be impacted.”
She said, “We want to help the entire community.”
Simmons said that while the charter school, if approved, would be located in Douglas County, it would be open to surrounding counties for enrollment.
“We’re going for a state charter, not a county charter,” Simmons said. “When you are under the county, they have to put aside money for the charter school. But we still have to put the application in at the county.”
Colonial Hills Christian School and Integrative Arts Creations will be holding a summer camp in June where they will offer a peek at a smaller version of the charter school they want to establish. Information on the summer camp and how to register can be found on the Colonial Hills Christian School website at www.chrams.org. For additional information, contact Marcy Simmons at 770-256-2798 or email her at email@example.com.
“We are working on getting the trust of the community,” said Simmons, “which is why we’re doing the camp so parents can see what it would look like and how well the students receive it.”
The BOE denied an application for another charter school earlier this month.
The first charter school petition was submitted to the BOE on Feb. 1, seeking to open the Bettye Cardwell School of International Studies charter school by petitioners Sharon and Michael Hathorn. It was denied by the school board on May 1 upon recommendation of school system personnel who reviewed the application.
If approved, the charter school was planning to meet in the original location of the former Brighten Academy building at 3264 Brookmont Parkway, according to petitioner Sharon Hathorn.
Initially planned to serve kindergarten through fourth grade students, Hathorn said she planned to add a grade level each year through 12th grade by 2025-2026 and to open the new charter school in the fall of 2017.
There were several key elements that led to denial of the petition, said Pam Nail, chief academic officer for the Douglas County School System.
According to Nail, the overall impression regarding the viability of the proposed school at this time was in question. Among them, she said, were concerns about whether the timeline for the proposed school to open were attainable; lack of detail on the dual language emersion program and how diversity and dual emersion would increase student achievement.
She said that targeted class sizes needed revision and curriculum plans were vague; instructional framework was not clearly defined. No required code of conduct of their own or discipline/dismissal policies had been written and no steps had been taken for Georgia Department of Education facility review or county certificate of occupancy. And Nail said there was no evidence in the petition of weighted enrollment.
According to Nail, the building the petitioners planned to use had not been secured and is currently occupied by another tenant, nor had the building been approved by the Douglas County School System.
“The denial doesn’t prohibit them from re-submitting,” said Nail. “The petitioners had the opportunity to withdraw the application and re-submit it at a later time. If the time frame wasn’t upon us, there would have been ample time to make revisions.”
Although the petitioners had met the requirements of a chief financial officer, information concerning audit oversight was not clear, according to Nail.
Some answers were left unclear, as to how the proposed charter school would comply with federal audits required for schools that receive federal funds; how would they submit financial documents to the Douglas County School System and the big question: does the school seem to be fiscally solid?
Ultimately, it is the school system that takes the heat if they recommend to approve a charter school that doesn’t meet state requirements.
“When we approve something, we are saying that they are ready and prepared,” said Nail, “and that we are prepared to send children. If a school is unable to thrive, the school system is responsible.”