Written and submitted by a DeKalb County resident whose 3 children have attended their zoned area DeKalb schools, a DeKalb magnet school and private Catholic schools. Two children who are still in school currently attend the state-authorized Ivy Preparatory Academy in DeKalb.
Recently I heard Nina Gilbert, founder of Ivy Preparatory Academies and Margaret Ciccarelli, Legislative Director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE), debate the upcoming Charter School Amendment.
After listening to both women speak, I came away with the feeling that Ms. Ciccarelli does not understand the definition of a charter school.
Ciccarelli stated that her child “attends a charter school in a charter system.” System charter schools are created, managed, and assessed by their local districts. They receive flexibility, but no not have to meet higher standards of accountability in exchange for flexibility. If a system charter school fails, it goes back to being a regular district school.
What makes charter schools unique is that:
1) Charter schools are governed by their stakeholders — staff and faculty, parents and community members
2) If a charter school does not meet the stated goals, it closes.
I believe some clarity on the history of Ivy Preparatory Academy will demonstrate to anyone trying to decide how to vote exactly why this Amendment is needed.
Ivy Preparatory Academy has faced hostility from both Gwinnett and DeKalb counties despite its stellar academic performance.
Ivy Preparatory Academy opened in 2008 as a state-chartered special school. The school was later approved in 2009 by the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. After the Georgia Supreme Court declared the law that created the commission unconstitutional, Gwinnett County granted Ivy Prep a one-year charter in 2011.
Halfway through Ivy Prep’s first year, on Jan. 19, the Gwinnett County Board of Education voted to reject extension of Ivy’s charter for the original campus, as well as a proposed new location. Faced with having to close its doors, Ivy Prep Academy appealed to the State Board of Education and was approved for a two-year state charter.
According to the State Board, the two-year charter was granted in order to “give Ivy Prep a chance to make a transition from its current management company to self-management … Ivy Prep has demonstrated strong student achievement despite the unpredictable revenue stream received under each successive charter.”
Although the state approval has kept Ivy Prep open, its per-pupil funding is just $6284.07 per-pupil, compared to $8281.49 (plus per pupil capital funds from state) for all other Gwinnett public school students. Ivy’s $6284.07 per pupil must also cover rent for the building and maintenance, which is not a factor in any other Gwinnett Public School.
Similarly, when Ivy Prep sent an initial draft of a charter petition to DeKalb County, it received a denial letter, citing: “lack of documentation, no history with the county and no evidence of community support.”
School leader Nina Gilbert was shocked by the denial because, she says;
“We left the 2 hour interview [with DeKalb County] believing that all questions were answered, and in follow up conversations we were told that no additional info was necessary. The process described in their policy stated that the petitioner would be allowed to respond to or clarify any unclear information. We were not informed of any concerns or additional questions until we received this letter.“
Mrs. Gilbert believes that “no further clarification” was requested because the authorizer, DeKalb County, had no intention of moving the petition forward. Still, she states,
“We would have loved the opportunity to collaborate with the DCSS team, correct mistakes, address concerns, and resubmit a plan that met DCSS’ approval, etc, and use this year as the planning year, which is how strong schools open.”
Again, with no option but to petition the state, Ivy Preparatory Academy at Kirkwood was approved by the State DOE to open two K-6 schools, one for girls and another for boys in 2011. Funding per-pupil last year was $6072.72 per pupil for girls, $6116.76 per pupil for boys, which was supplemented to $7363.23 per girl and $7041.99 per boy (this year only) by Governor Nathan Deal. The schools will add one grade level each year, eventually serving K-12 with the mission:
“Within a structured and supportive environment, Ivy Prep develops elementary, middle, and high school students into thoroughly equipped scholars who are prepared to enter and succeed in the colleges and universities of their choice.”
Voting YES for the Charter School Amendment will NOT take funds away from other schools. It will in fact increase funds per pupil because state authorized schools cannot use local property taxes. With your YES vote, state charter schools will be able to operate using considerably less funding than other public schools in the area, which is an increase from the shoestring budget in place now. Ivy Preparatory Academy should serve as a model to all public schools by maintaining successful academic standards despite no support from local school boards and seriously reduced funding.