A south Fulton academy for young men received disappointing news at a school board meeting Tuesday night when the county's school board turned down its bid for a local charter. During the same meeting, the Fulton County school board approved the application of the new Chattahoochee Hills Charter School. .
The decision left Fulton Leadership Academy officials dejected and critical of the board's 5-2 vote against extending the Atlanta school a local charter, a designation that would have given the 320-student school $2.6 million in local funding. The academy is a state charter school, operating on state funding that is now in jeopardy.
Fulton County schools superintendent Robert Avossa told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Fulton Leadership Academy's curriculum, which emphasizes technology and offers single-gender education, duplicates programming available at traditional Fulton schools.
By contrast, Chattahoochee Hills' focus on science, arts and agriculture is something new,. The school is also located by an organic farm near Palmetto, giving students a chance for a “hands-on experience.” It will open in the fall of 2013 with a projected 270 students and $2.2 million in local funds.
“One of the interesting things is how the community has coalesced around this concept," Avossa said. "This community came together to support this unique school.”
But Fulton Leadership Academy principal Gavin Samms disagreed with the decision, saying that his school is also important to the community.
“I’m a parent, and I’d like to know that there are good options in south Fulton,” he said. “You can’t have a school that does that well with boys of color, and just throw it away, especially when graduation rates are so low in the area.”
Samms said that the academy posted good test scores during its two years of existence, meeting the federal standard for achievement under the No Child Left Behind Act.
He pointed to its STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program, and its plan to become a co-ed institution that educates boys and girls in separate classrooms as reasons for supporting the school.
Samms questioned whether the board denied the Leadership Academy a local charter because it could only approve one charter school.
“Give me a real reason, and I can deal with that,” Samms said. “If it was about only being able to pick one school, we should know that.”
But Avossa said that the decision was not based on how approving both schools might affect the budget. .
“We don’t walk into the charter process with a number in mind,” he said, adding that he reviews applications and bases his recommendation the merits. Fulton Leadership Academy simply did not warrant approval, he said.
“There wasn’t a whole lot that was distinct,” he said. “They lacked originality.”
He added, “They did fine [on testing results], but they didn’t outperform typical schools with a similar size, demographics, and poverty level.”
Samms said that the academy's future now largely depends on the result of the November constitutional amendment vote on charter schools. If the amendment is rejected, Samms said, the school would likely not have the funding to continue operations.
The Georgia Supreme Court last year ruled local districts had the sole authority to start public schools including charters, invalidating the charters of schools that had been approved by a state board.
The constitutional amendment, if approved by voters, would overturn the court's ruling.