The Atlanta Public Schools' Board of Education is expected to vote today on a request by East Lake's to expand to include a high school.
Despite a concerted drive by and of the school — which enjoys the of the elementary schools that serve East Atlanta Patch neighborhoods — APS Superintendent Erroll B. Davis Jr. opposes the expansion.
The reason: A Drew Charter Senior Academy would compete with Jackson High School, located a few miles away in Grant Park, for students.
The district, which recently completed a citywide redistricting to reduce the number of empty seats, still has 6,200 vacant desks at the high school level.
"Drew Charter School’s planned expansion is not aligned with pre-existing district plans to expand and improve Jackson High School," according to Davis' recommendation. "At a time when 6,200 empty seats are empty at existing district high schools, it is neither prudent nor in the public interest to add additional high school seats."
Drew officials counter that argument, saying only 41 students of the roughly 890 students enrolled at Jackson are Drew graduates.
What's more, the proposed Drew Senior Academy would expand on a tiered basis. It would only have 100 9th students in the 2013-14 school year, its first year of operation. That's 2.2 percent of APS' high school class district wide, Danny J. Shoy Jr., program director of the East Lake Foundation, told East Atlanta Patch.
The Senior Academy would have some 600 students by 2023, Shoy said.
Parents at Drew, the first charter school in APS, have been interested in a high school component for years, Shoy said.
It's a desire that has been underscored by dissatisfaction with students' graduation rates after their time at Drew he said.
"We have looked at our student achievement data and realize the longer our students are at Drew, the better they do," Shoy said.
We realize there's certain supports that we're able to give that they may not have at other schools," he said, noting the school has an extended class day and academic year, as well as an after-school enrichment program.
In addition, the school has several summer enrichment programs aimed at former students to help them better succeed in high school and plan for college and the workforce.
One such program, Creating Responsible, Educated and Working Teens — or CREW Teens — gives them tutoring, homework assistance, standardized test preparation, as well as community service and leadership training. They also receive career-counseling advice as well as help with navigating college admissions and financial aid.
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"There's a series of supports we're offering," Shoy said. "That's the real magic, our ability to build on that culture of academic excellence."
APS has earmarked roughly for physical and program improvements designed to make it stronger academically and more attractive to parents who have opted for waivers to send their children to better performing schools elsewhere in the district like Grady High School, private or charter schools such as , or to move out of the city altogether.
While acknowledging Drew's success academically at the K-8 level, the redistricting left Southeast Atlanta area neighborhoods with schools APS believes are now stronger and enjoy community support.
"The recent demographic process has underscored the importance of preserving existing schools that are effective and that are strongly supported by their parents, staff and other stakeholders," according to Davis' rationale.
"Increasing Drew’s enrollment capacity so dramatically in a geographic area in which several strongly supported traditional schools are precariously poised due to demographic shifts is ill-advised."
But the Southeast Atlanta Communities for Schools, a parent organization formed to address the public school educational needs of children in the city's southeastern quadrant, supports Drew's request and doesn't see Drew's continued success as a negative for Jackson's future.
"We agree with Superintendent Davis that this is a very difficult position to support when there are empty seats in most of the Jackson Cluster’s constituent schools and a great push to get community buy-in to Jackson itself," SEACS' May 25 letter to the board reads.
"SEACS believes, however, that the days of “zero-sum” thinking in regards to our schools are over — the success of one does not need to depend on the failure of another."
Drew officials, in their presentations to various constituents and APS note they would not be asking for money from taxpayers to fund the expansion; money to build the senior campus would be raised through the East Lake Foundation via private donations and grants.
The Senior Academy, as proposed, would be built on the back corner of the Charlie Yates Golf Course, at the southwestern corner of Memorial Drive and 2nd Avenue.
In addition to the high school classes of 9th through 12th grades, the middle school-aged kids, 6th graders through 8th graders — the Junior Academy — also would relocate to the new campus. Drew's main campus on East Lake Boulevard would be home to its Pre-K through 5th grade classes.
Asked if Drew's board of directors would appeal or sue to the district if the board votes "no," Shoy said: "We're hopeful that they're going to say yes. We do believe it's in the best interests of the students at the school and what's best for the Southeast Atlanta community."
And if the vote is no?
"We would continue to do what we need to do to work to convince them that this is in the best interest of the children."