The Kindezi School at Old Fourth Ward opened in 2015. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

In gentrifying Atlanta, a charter school seeks to admit more poor students

An Atlanta charter school wants permission to use a weighted lottery that would give poor students a greater chance at being admitted.

The Kindezi School at Old Fourth Ward has seen its student population shift since it opened three years ago as the surrounding neighborhood gentrifies. The school wants the ability to change its admissions lottery so that it gives a greater advantage to economically disadvantaged students.

Currently, all potential students have an equal chance at being selected for admission through the lottery. Any student who lives in the Atlanta Public Schools district may attend the school.

The Atlanta Board of Education, which authorizes the school’s charter, approved the change Oct. 1. The school must now receive final approval from the state board of education.

A 2015 state law made it possible for charter schools to use a weighted lottery that takes into account various factors that put students at an educational disadvantage. Georgia Department of Education officials estimate about 10 to 20 charter schools have the option of using a weighted lottery included in their charter documents. A weighted lottery option is included automatically for new charter schools and those renewing their charters.

At the Kindezi school, the weighted lottery would be used if the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals falls below 65 percent. For the purposes of state reporting, the Old Fourth Ward school and another school operated by Kindezi on Atlanta’s westside were tracked previously as one school. The state reports that 80 percent of students at the two sites combined were eligible for free or reduced-price meals in 2016-2017, the most recent data from the state.

Kindezi spokeswoman Elizabeth Broderick said the charter school decided to pursue a weighted lottery “based on anecdotal evidence observed in our school and in our classrooms.”

“It has become apparent over the past couple of years that the changes occurring in the O4W community at large are being reflected in our classrooms, especially at the younger grades,” she said, in a written statement.

Broderick said the school will review data collected by APS to determine if its percentage falls below the 65 percent threshold. If the state approves the use of a weighted lottery, Kindezi officials hope to start using it this spring to determine which students are selected for the 2019-2020 school year.

Broderick said a “central part” of Kindezi’s mission is to serve socioeconomically diverse students.

“We believe that all students (and the community at large) benefit from being in school with students from a variety of backgrounds. At the same time, we also want to ensure that we continue to serve students with the highest need,” she said.

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