More than 400 students started their first day of school at the opening day of Brookhaven Innovation Academy, a debut more than three years in the making.

The new state public charter school opened Aug. 2 at its temporary location in Norcross with 420 students signed up for grades K-6, said Head of School Dr. Laurie Kimbrel.

Jennifer Langley, BIA chair of the board, left, and Dr. Laurie Kimbrel, BIA head of school, cut the ribbon on the first day, Aug. 2. (Photo Phil Mosier)

Jennifer Langley, BIA chair of the board, left, and Dr. Laurie Kimbrel, BIA head of school, cut the ribbon on the first day, Aug. 2. (Photo Phil Mosier)

There are three classes for each grade with approximately 20 students in each class, she said. There are 21 classroom teachers, one special education teacher, one music teacher, one PE teacher and one ESOL teacher.

“Our extensive preparations over the last several months have allowed us to be ready for a successful start, and our highly skilled teachers cannot wait to meet their students,” Kimbrel said in an email.

“We look forward to sharing our personalized, project-based approach to STEM (science, technology and math) education to ensure that all students are prepared for success in our ever changing and complex world.”

BIA’s beginnings were bumpy. Created by the City Council and now an independent nonprofit, BIA is focused on a STEM curriculum, and is intended in part to cope with overcrowding in DeKalb County schools, especially Brookhaven’s Cross Keys cluster. The charter school won approval in August 2015 after first being rejected by the Georgia’s State Charter Schools Commission in 2014.

With less than a year before the school was slated to open, school supporters raced to find a suitable location. Eventually, the board of directors chose to lease a space in Norcross for the school’s first year after they said they could not find a site in Brookhaven.

“Our Norcross site is a temporary location, and the board of directors is still considering permanent locations in the Brookhaven area,” Kimbrel said.

Mason Weiss, left, and Spencer Phillips wait for class to begin on BIA's first day. (Photo Phil Mosier)

Mason Weiss, left, and Spencer Phillips wait for class to begin on BIA’s first day. (Photo Phil Mosier)

City Councilmember Bates Mattison was cleared of any ethical impropriety by outside legal counsel after then-Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams raised concerns when he was hired last year as BIA’s interim executive director.

Mattison stepped down from the post in May. When the state approved the school’s charter, Councilmember Joe Gebbia was also a BIA board member but he resigned last year to do away with any appearance of conflict of interest.

Several City Council members—including Williams—had BIA board seats in the school’s formative stages, which raised conflict questions before. The GSCSC Commission ordered a reduction in the number of City Council members on the board as one condition of approving the school.

Mattison stepped down from the post in May. When the state approved the school’s charter, Councilmember Joe Gebbia was also a BIA board member but he resigned last year to do away with any appearance of conflict of interest.

Several City Council members—including Williams—had BIA board seats in the school’s formative stages, which raised conflict questions before. The GSCSC Commission ordered a reduction in the number of City Council members on the board as one condition of approving the school.

Students attending are not only from Brookhaven but are coming from Decatur, Stone Mountain, Dunwoody, South Atlanta, Buckhead and Cobb County, Kimbrel said.

“It is with great pride that we are opening a first-class school available to all residents of Georgia, where each student will have their own tablet or computer and receive customized instruction from one of our outstanding teachers under the leadership of BIA’s Head of School, Dr. Laurie Kimbrel,” said Board Chair Jennifer Langley in a statement.

This summer, the board of directors tried to raise money toward the $250,000 needed to fund an adequate busing system. The school had $85,000 budgeted for transportation but was only able to raise just under $28,000 by parents, according to BIA.
Instead of a busing system, the school set up a carpool system in collaboration with Georgia Commutes Options and are utilizing the PikMyKid app.

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