March 21, 2014 - Atlanta - Parents intending to enroll their children in Atlanta Classical Academy were introduced to the new principal, Dr. Terrence Moore (left), at an event held at the Lodge. Matthew Kirby (center) and Colonel Stephen Lambert joined him on the stage. Students are flocking to Atlanta charter schools beginning next school year, increasing their size by one-third as new schools open and others expand. About 1,800 students are joining charter schools in August 2014, boosting their enrollments to about 7,000 students compared to 42,000 traditional school students. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres
Photo: Bob Andres

Atlanta charter school enrollment climbs

A surge in the number of Atlanta students attending charter schools is coming this fall, when two more schools open and existing charters add grade levels.

More than 1,800 students are joining city charter schools for the 2014-2015 school year, meaning about 1 in 7 Atlanta public school students will be enrolled in charters. Charter schools will educate about 7,000 Atlanta students, and traditional public schools will instruct about 43,000 children.

And those numbers don’t include the hundreds of students who tried to get into charters but were put on waiting lists.

Both charter schools and traditional schools are funded by taxpayers, but charter schools manage themselves and have more flexibility over their academics.

Atlanta Classical Academy in Buckhead, which the city school board approved last fall, will take in about 450 students. Centennial Place Academy, which is currently a traditional k-5 elementary school in Midtown, will convert to a charter school and add a sixth grade, which expands by 600 the number of Atlanta charter students.

The rest of the enrollment increases are spread among charter schools that are already operating and still expanding.

“All charter school growth is spurred by the demand of parents. If no parents or children wanted to go to charter schools, there wouldn’t be charter schools,” said Tony Roberts, CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association. “It’s teachers or parents saying, ‘We need a charter school here.’”

Outside Atlanta, charter schools also are popping up in Fulton County, DeKalb County, Douglasville and Macon next school year. The largest growth will be in Macon, when Macon Charter Academy and the Academy for Classical Education open with 600 students and 760 students, respectively.

So many students participated in last month’s lottery to attend Atlanta Classical Academy that about 900 of them didn’t get in, said Matt Kirby, chairman of the school’s founding board of directors.

“Families are hungry for a different kind of school, and so we have an opportunity to provide that and perhaps demonstrate a different way of doing things,” said Kirby, whose school will emphasize a classical liberal arts education, including learning Latin. The school will be located on the site of the Heiskell School, which is closing after 65 years.

At Centennial Place Academy, the transition to a charter school will result in a revamped curriculum, more project-based learning and extensive professional development, said Janet Kinard, the school’s conversion program manager. Instruction will focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

“The curriculum is very much geared toward an application of knowledge, not just the learning of knowledge,” Kinard said. “It’s exciting to be building something and to be looking toward the future.”

The jump in charter school enrollment along with rising tax revenue have forced the Atlanta public school system to budget about $29 million more for charter schools next year, bringing the total amount spent on charters to $71 million out of a projected $658 million budget.

Traditional school students shouldn’t receive fewer resources because charter students are getting more, said Allen Mueller, executive director of innovation for Atlanta Public Schools.

“We do not rob Peter to pay Paul. When we’re supporting charter schools, we try to be sure that support doesn’t pull dollars from traditional school students,” he said.

Besides large increases in charter students created by new schools, several other charter schools are continuing their long-term expansion plans.

Drew Charter School will teach its first 10th-grade class, whose 100 students will be housed in a new building that’s under construction.

Four KIPP charter schools are adding grades for a total of about 480 more students.

The Kindezi School, Westside Atlanta Charter School and others are experiencing smaller growth.

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