A group of parents wants to turn Ashford Park Elementary School into a charter school.

Advocates say becoming a charter school will allow more flexibility and autonomy from the school system’s central office in exchange for greater accountability and achievement.

Shawn Keefe, co-president of the Ashford Park School Education Foundation, said he and other parents are planning a town hall meeting in the next few weeks. It would be a forum for parents and teachers to ask questions and learn from charter school experts and parents of children at other charter schools, such as Kingsley Elementary School in nearby Dunwoody.

“If it goes the way I think it will go and parents jump on this concept, we’d like to be able to petition the county by August of this year for a charter for the 2014-2015 school year,” he said.

A charter would be a detailed, 100-plus page document outlining the school’s objectives and goals.

Keefe said the pressure to complete a petition seeking charter status by Aug. 1 is to ensure that it is reviewed by the current DeKalb County Board of Education, which will be replaced after elections in 2014.

Earlier this year, DeKalb County was placed on accreditation probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools due to mismanagement by the Board of Education. Gov. Nathan Deal ousted six of the nine school board members and appointed new representatives from a large pool of applicants. Many feel that the new school board, along with Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond, may be more likely to approve charter schools.

“I really think this is a great opportunity to do this because of the new school board,” Keefe said. “They understand parents are sick and tired of being ignored and want to have a more active role in individual schools. Hopefully we’ll get that support if we make that decision.”

Brookhaven City Councilman Bates Mattison, an Ashford Park parent, also is leading the school’s charter effort. Mattison said though conversations about charter schools have happened in the past, he believes this year, attaining a charter could be a reality.

“There’s a real opportunity for change. The new leadership certainly seems willing and open to exploring new ideas,” Mattison said. “With this new administration, everybody said now is our time.”

But Keefe said he wants to be transparent about the process and make sure people have a chance to learn about the charter model before they move forward with the petition.

“I think it needs to be a collective decision among parents, teachers and administrators in order to do this. If we don’t have buy-in from the majority we can’t do this,” Keefe said.

Parents in Brookhaven aren’t the only ones interested in charter schools.  Mattison said there are efforts to create charter clusters in Dunwoody and Druid Hills, meaning that all the elementary, middle and high schools in an attendance zone would be charter schools. He said there has been interest in making the Chambee High School attendance zone a charter cluster, too.

“As much as I applaud the effort, politically it may be difficult to sell the concept,” Mattison said.

He thinks Ashford Park is a more attainable goal, and one that, if proven successful, could lead to a charter cluster down the road.

Keefe said his chief interest in pursuing a charter is to give teachers more flexibility to improve academic performance.

“I think it would be a great thing for the community and I think it would help this part of Brookhaven thrive. It would attract new families who would want to come here because of a high- performing school,” Keefe said. “I know that’s what a lot of parents want for our school.”

Chamblee High School is already a charter school with a focus on science, math, engineering and technology. Keefe said that focus is something that would make sense to mirror at Ashford Park.

Mattison said his interests in the charter effort are as a parent, not a city councilman. However, he thinks that the success of schools are important to residents of Brookhaven.

“As I knocked on doors [during the campaign],” he said, “it was probably the No. 1 thing people wanted to talk about: how do we improve the school system in Brookhaven?”

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