New city gets new school. Brookhaven charter approved

Next year, more than 400 children in metro Atlanta will be able to attend a new school fostered by the leaders of one of Georgia’s newest cities.

Backers of the Brookhaven Innovation Academy, including members of city council, earned a charter from the State Charter Schools Commission Thursday, and say they’ll serve 420 elementary school students starting in 2016.

The science-based school — even kindergartners will program computers — was the inspiration of the first generation of Brookhaven leaders after the city was incorporated in 2012.

“The thing that people wanted to talk to me about when I was running for city council was education,” said councilman Bates Mattison, who will serve on the governing board of the school. Residents were frustrated with the DeKalb County School District, which serves the area, and wanted city leaders to do something about, he said.

The conundrum for him and other city leaders: how to improve education without control over it? Brookhaven, like all new cities, is prohibited by the Georgia constitution from starting and operating its own schools.

The city’s initial proposal last year was shot down by the State Charter Schools Commission, in part because the relationship with the city was too close. The mayor and city council comprised the proposed school’s governing board, and the commission, which wanted a commitment to enroll a diverse group of children, saw that as a conflict of interest. State chartered-schools must accept all comers, and the criticism suggested a fear that Brookhaven city leaders would try to enroll mostly well off children from within the city.

That issue was addressed in this second petition, which expands the board to a possible 16 members and reserves seats for people who don’t live in Brookhaven. Importantly, since the Hispanic population in and around Brookhaven has been growing, the board also has spots for advocates of that group.

State charter commission member Tony Lowden said he was pleased by the petition’s statement that the school was “really going to reach out for diversity.”

Brookhaven’s mayor-appointed development authority is considering the $2.8 million purchase of an old school building that would be leased to this school.

“It’s great when you have the support of a city, and I think it’s a model that other cities in the state can look at,” Mattison said.

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