Ivy Prep Gwinnett, a former charter school icon, not re-opening

Ivy Preparatory Academy, a once-esteemed Gwinnett County charter school, will not reopen next year, and signs point to permanent closure.

“In a unanimous vote on August 16, 2018, the school board reluctantly decided to end all planning efforts to reopen,” says a statement from a spokesman.

The decision was reached after “an exhaustive” review of the financial situation that led the charter school’s board to conclude that reopening next year, as a former director and the board had previously told parents would happen, is not “a viable option.”

The decision marked a sharp turnaround from early in the decade, when the all-girl school became a symbol of the charter school movement. Girls, in their iconic green blazers, filled the halls of the state Capitol to lobby lawmakers.

In 2012, Gov. Nathan Deal used the school in his argument for passage of a constitutional amendment for charter schools, writing in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that it was “a great example” of superior performance relative to traditional public schools.

Voters were convinced, and that November they changed the constitution to create the State Charter Schools Commission.

For a time, the future looked bright, as Ivy Prep expanded to DeKalb County, opening a second campus.  Then, last year, the AJC revealed problems at the Gwinnett campus, where the academics were slipping, enrollment was plummeting and costs were outpacing revenue.

The Ivy Prep leader, Alisha Thomas Cromartie, who'd been a charter school supporter when she'd served in the state House of Representatives (her surname then was Morgan), said she could save the school. She then negotiated with the charter commission for renewal of the charters for both campuses in a deal that included a one-year closure of Gwinnett while she looked for a less expensive building.

She told parents it was temporary, but she subsequently resigned, without giving a clear reason. Parents were in limbo until this week's announcement.

The school’s founder, Nina Gilbert, is troubled by what’s happened, calling it “educational malpractice.” She said parents were not included in the decision. She said she’s seeking records from the state and filing complaints and is “committed to making this right for the 1,100 (and counting) students” whom she said the board had “abandoned.”

School board chairman Jason Allen did not immediately respond to a query from the AJC, but Stephen Alford, a spokesman for the school, did. Alford said parents were informed of the board’s decision Wednesday, more than a month after the board’s vote. He said about 200 students were enrolled at the campus last school year and only 22 families had planned to return.

Ivy Prep will continue to operate its campus in Kirkwood, Alford said, and he included this statement from Allen:

“We certainly prefer to have a Gwinnett campus; however, we have to make responsible decisions and honor our commitment to all of our students, parents, employees and taxpayers. ... While this is a very difficult decision, it is necessary.”