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GCSA’s Andrew Lewis calls charter schools another tool in the belt for public education

Group stresses that public charter schools can benefit a community

ALBANY — Georgia Charter Schools Association (GCSA) Executive Vice-President Andrew Lewis is no stranger to Albany. Tuesday evening at Harvest Moon, Lewis tried to paint a picture of a charter school to a gathering of interested parents and educators.

“We are asked all the time ‘what does a charter school look like?’” Lewis said. “The simplest answer is that it can look like most anything the community can imagine. A charter school is a public school, but it provides the opportunity to do something a little different in education. We are here to explore new possibilities. It’s time to do things differently in public K-12 education. One way is to empower parents by expanding options in public K-12 education so they can choose the school that’s best for their child.”

According the the GCSA’s web site, the organization has 60 member schools scattered through out the state, the vast majority of which are located in north Georgia. There is one charter school located in Albany — International Studies Elementary Charter School and two others located in the region. Baconton Charter in Baconton and Pataula Charter in Edison.

There are two ongoing efforts to establish charter schools in Albany — The River School for Children STEM Academy and the Albany Academy of Scholars. Both charter proposals, however, have been rebuffed by the Dougherty County School Board.

Resistance by local boards, said GCSA Director of Outreach Rashaun Holliman, is why community support is crucial to getting a local charter up and running.

“We need your support,” Holliman said. “Share what you have learned with your friends and family. Charter schools are public schools and the perception exists that Charters are taking money away from public schools, but they are not.”

In an Op-Ed piece in The Albany Herald, Lewis wrote that in Georgia, the growth of autonomous, self-governing, tuition-free charter public schools that are 100 percent open to any child who wishes to attend, has been mostly limited to the Atlanta metro area. But improved academic results are already paying big dividends for districts like Atlanta Public Schools (APS) who have embraced charter schools and consider them a vital part of their efforts. In APS, charter schools are not seen as unwanted competition, but as welcome parts of their improvement efforts.

“It’s all about new possibilities, new pathways. And Dougherty County can do it, too, if community leaders and citizens are willing to put all education options on the table,” Lewis said. “Charter public schools are just one tool in the K-12 tool belt, but they are a tool that Dougherty County could use, as APS and Fulton County already have.”