Gwinnett Schools: Ivy Prep charter to relocate, close for one year

ajc.com

The Gwinnett campus of Ivy Prep Academy will close temporarily at the end of this school year.

A recommendation from staff of the State Charter Schools Commission asks that the school be allowed a year to move to a new location and reopen for the 2019-2020 school year. The final commission decision is expected Feb. 28.

Ivy Preparatory, a middle school for girls in Gwinnett County that opened in 2008 was the model for charter school success in Georgia. In 2012, Gov. Nathan Deal called Ivy Prep “a great example…that is outperforming the general population in Gwinnett County schools, which are some of the best in the state.”

The successful example was used to gain support for the run-up to the state-wide vote that empowered the state to authorize, and pay for, more charter schools.

But the school’s momentum didn’t last, and as it celebrates its 10th anniversary, enrollment has dropped from a high of about 400 to 95 students.

In 2015, former state lawmaker Alisha Thomas Morgan was hired to run Ivy Prep’s growing network of schools, which by then had expanded into DeKalb County.

During recent months, several parents contacted the AJC concerned that they weren’t getting accurate or current information about the fate of the school as students dwindled.

“We believe as an organization that our schools belong to our parents,” said Morgan. “We believe in transparency. And even when we’re not required to share information, we want to keep the family informed. They are our key stakeholders.”

At a meeting two weeks agoMorgan said she discussed options with parents.

“We’ve been talking about renewal or nonrenewal,” she said. “And a recommendation to allow us to move forward, change locations and get stronger speaks volumes to what we’ve accomplished.”

Another meeting was held Feb. 13.

Moving to a facility closer to the Gwinnett/DeKalb border or in South Gwinnett County should help with the enrollment, Morgan said.

“The primary reason for our challenges is the location,” she said. The lease on the current building expires in May. The high cost of rent and a location that wasn’t convenient for a great many families lead to financial issues which had an effect on everything else.

The key point many parents walked away with is that they must find a new school for their sixth- and seven-grade students next year.

“It was a lot to take in,” said Jazzmin Baldwin, vice president of membership for the school’s PTSA and a former cheerleading and dance coach.

Morgan said the school has created a planning committee with parent volunteers to help with options.

Those who live in DeKalb or Fulton counties, can transfer to the Kirkwood location. Gwinnett residents may not have that option because the charters are separate.

Gwinnett County Public Schools officials said they will have no problem absorbing Ivy Prep students.

“Any time there is a situation like this that causes a disruption for students our concern is always focused on their welfare,” said spokeswoman Sloan Roach. “Fortunately for them, the Ivy Prep students who return to Gwinnett County Public Schools will be welcomed back by a school system that will ensure they receive a quality and effective education.”

Baldwin isn’t sure that solution is the best one. At the Tuesday meeting she said only one parent said transportation was an issue for her.

With many nieces who currently attend, attended in the past and planned to become students at Ivy Prep, Baldwin said she saddened to see the decline.

Morgan asks those who are now disheartened to hold out hope.

“Allow us to move this year and come back home where we will be ‘Ivy stronger,’ and we will be better because of it.”

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The AJC's Arlinda Smith Broady keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Gwinnett County Schools. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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