Supporters make the case for new charter high school

About 60 parents and supporters of Drew Charter School went before the Atlanta school board Wednesday to support plans for a new high school.

The board held a special informational session to learn more about Drew's plans to build a $55 million high school that eventually would enroll 600 students. Superintendent Erroll Davis does not support the initiative because, he has said, Atlanta has too many empty seats at the high school level.

Drew supporters say the program is a proven success in the elementary and middle grades, and they want to continue that progress into high school. The board will get the final say in the matter, which is scheduled to come up for a vote June 4.

“The students at Drew are part of a culture that just breeds success," PTA President Charisse Richardson told the board. "You want to keep your kids there so they can become a part of that culture."

Drew opened 12 years ago as Atlanta’s first charter, a publicly funded school that operates independently of the local school board.

About 1,110 students are enrolled in the school’s infant through eighth-grade program, a holistic education approach that’s been central in revitalizing Atlanta’s once derelict East Lake neighborhood. According to state report card data, the school has more black and low-income students meeting or exceeding state standards than any other school in the district.

Davis said the district is open to new charter schools, but he doesn’t see how Drew’s proposed high school will meet a need that traditional schools cannot.

The school board questioned Wednesday how Drew's expansion would affect enrollment at traditional schools in the southeast Atlanta area. The district is planning to invest $40 million at nearby Jackson High, which includes plans to start an International Baccalaureate program.

Drew has enjoyed support from influential leaders such as former Mayor Shirley Franklin and developer Tom Cousins. The school’s pre-kindergarten program receives support from the Cox Foundation. Cox Enterprises is an Atlanta-based communications, auto services and media company, whose holdings include The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Plans are to open the 200,000-square-foot high school in 2013-14 with 100 freshmen and add one class per year until the school reaches its full capacity in 2023. It would be built on golf course acreage across the street from the current school site.

School board Chairman Reuben McDaniel said Wednesday's meeting was called because "it was my concern that misinformation or lack of information would lead us to a decision that might not be best for the children. I wanted everyone to hear the same thing, and get the benefit of asking questions."