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New Drew Charter School Policy to Affect Porch Press Area Enrollment… Eventually

By Valerie Molyneaux
In June, Drew Charter School’s head of school, Mr. Don Doran, notified parents and other stakeholders of proposed changes to Drew’s educational charter, due for renewal this year. He scheduled a series of community meetings in East Lake, Kirkwood, and at the school itself. Among other less sweeping changes, the Education and Admissions Committee of the Drew Charter School Board recommended eliminating sibling priority and priority admission for early learning partners, including Sheltering Arms child care and Pre-Kindergarten programs, East Lake Early Learning Academy, and the Drew Cox Pre-Kindergarten programs effective for the next lottery in 2017. They also recommended a weighted lottery provision to prioritize applicants who qualify for free-and-reduced lunch (FRL), the Board’s accepted proxy measure of socioeconomic status.
The school located in East Lake will soon have a program that runs from pre-K through 12th grade. It has been accepting students from across Atlanta on a tiered admission system based on home neighborhood proximity to the school, a limited lottery system and a student’s relationship to older siblings already at the school. Surrounding neighborhood demographics continue to change. Drew Board members cited movement away from an ideal mixed income population at Drew Charter School—defined as a student body in which 65% qualify for FRL (Free Lunch)—as primary motivation for the proposed changes.  While the high school population is almost entirely eligible for FRL, the kindergarten classes are now around 40% FRL. Overall statistics for all 1200 Drew students include about 60% FRL, mostly from the subsidized housing of the Villages at East Lake.
At community input meetings and on social media sites, it quickly became apparent that many parents were in support of the school mission and ideal socioeconomic mix, yet opposed to the immediate implementation of the proposed changes.  Atlanta families in the Porch Press area and others residing outside East Lake or Kirkwood, with Pre-K students scheduled to attend Drew for the 2016-2017 school year would no longer be assured access for Kindergarten, nor for future younger siblings. Drew’s waiting list is in hundreds each year which would make admission all but impossible for “outsider” families, even siblings, under the board’s proposed changes.
After PowerPoint presentations of proposed changes, the audience made comments at each community meeting. There were impassioned pleas by parents to allow them continued access to Georgia’s oldest and most successful charter school.  They spoke eloquently about community and continuity, as well as years of parental volunteer hours and participation long before Drew had the high test scores and long wait lists of today.
Board members Mr. Danny Shoy and Ms. Carol Naughton as well as Doran, listened attentively promising consideration if not action. The plan was for an internal board to vote on the proposed changes on June 21, but instead they took further public comments from more than 30 community members, and allowed more discussion.
Stakeholders were then invited to a meeting of the Board’s Enrollment and Admissions Committee on June 28. There was no public commentary at this meeting. There was a fast PowerPoint presentation of proposed changes, Drew enrollment data, and then a new charter admissions proposal that included feedback from previous meetings.
The new proposal renamed Admission access levels, formerly numbered tiers, to Priorities A through E to eliminate perceptions of some areas being inferior. Further, admission priorities for the proposed 10 year charter would be implemented in a two-staged rollout. Years 1-4 of the charter would extend sibling priority to all currently enrolled students siblings born before September 1 as well as all enrollees in Pre-K at Drew’s Cox program, and Sheltering Arms regardless of neighborhood.
Stage 2, years 5-10 of the charter, will quickly accelerate toward the socioeconomic income level of 65% FRL, extending sibling priority first to students from East Lake and Kirkwood ahead of siblings and new applicants who live in the rest of Atlanta. The committee unanimously adopted this two step plan allowing grandfathering of some of the students from the Porch Press neighborhoods for at least the first four years.

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