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Westside Atlanta Charter … Changing Lives One Young Life at a Time

Mike Klein

Mike Klein

Republished by Charter Confidential

Frank Sinatra made the New York myth and legend seem so attractive – “I want to be part of it, New York, New York” – but after living her entire life there Adrienne Brooks wanted out. “You rush through everything in New York. You eat fast, you walk fast, you go, go, go,” she said. “I’m like, I need more grass area, not so much cement everywhere.”

Brooks especially wanted something different for her son, Christian. Three years ago this single mother said good riddance Big Apple, hello Atlanta. “I needed more space for him. I needed him to be outside running, playing and just enjoying that. You get that here in Georgia.”

They moved into an apartment northwest of downtown Atlanta and then Brooks went shopping. Not in Buckhead, not for shoes and swag, but shopping for her young son’s education. Brooks enrolled Christian in first grade at Westside Atlanta Charter School when it opened in fall 2013. She enlisted as a parent volunteer and later was hired as the school’s parent liaison.

“My budget is tight. It’s just me and my son,” Brooks said. “Every little penny I’m looking at to see where can this go, how much can I afford to spend, am I able to send (Christian) to a great school where you get the private school experience but I’m not paying the private school price.”

A field trip to Westside Atlanta Charter School was part of the “Amplify School Choice” conference hosted April 24-25 in Atlanta by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Two days of wonky talk led by experts from prominent policy organizations was wrapped around an opportunity to tour Westside Atlanta’s 163-student campus northwest of downtown.  (See website links below.)

Adrienne Brooks and her son Christian

Adrienne Brooks and her son Christian

“Most parents have had the experience where their kids were just lost in the sauce, meaning they were in these big classrooms,” Brooks said. “If your child is not that child that just stands out the teacher has so many kids that they don’t get that one-on-one-attention. Here it’s very small. The teachers have personal relationships with the children and the families.”

Westside Atlanta is located on Drew Drive in what can appropriately be described as a revitalization community. “Homes are starting to come out of the ground again,” said executive director Pete Settelmayer. He describes the location as “between Bankhead and Buckhead.” Forty-two percent of students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch. Twenty-seven percent live in west Highlands which is a combination of middle class and subsidized public housing.

“This was set up to be the East Lake of the west side about 2004, 2005. Then we all know what happened in 2007,” Settelmayer said. The economic recession that started in 2008 significantly slowed down the aggressive project. And therein, an opportunity developed. Columbia Residential founder Noel Khalil gave Westside Atlanta Charter a $1-per-year lease to occupy unused commercial space for up to 11 years. The campus also includes a large modular facility for the Upper School.

Like every public charter school, Westside Atlanta is required to meet all Georgia state educational standards, but that is merely a starting point. “Our focus is to teach the children, not teach the test,” Settelmayer said. “We’re going to teach them to think critically.  We’re going to teach them to solve problems.  We’re going to teach them to have a go at things on their own with our support because at this level they need support.”

The Franklin Center conference brought together experts on virtually every subject central to parental school choice, especially funding formulas. The concept that public tax dollars should follow the student would do much to put parents in charge of education rather than the current model that favors funding school districts rather than funding individual student education.

“Americans want more freedom in almost every walk of their life,” Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice senior fellow Ben Scafidi told the conference. Scafidi is former chair of the Georgia Charter Schools Commission. “The reason we’re not getting it in schools is because there is a very well-funded, entrenched opposition but it’s going to come. Intelligent people that aren’t paid by the public school system are not on their side anymore. The politics have changed.”

Politics were not part of what Adrienne Brooks was thinking about when she decided to start over in Atlanta. For young Christian she wanted to replicate the quality of the Catholic School education she had as a child in New York, but at a price that she could afford. Brooks looked at several options before she decided on Westside Atlanta Charter School.

“It works because you have huge parental involvement,” Brooks said. “It’s one thing to have your teachers involved; that’s their job. They teach because they love it; that’s their passion. It’s another when you actually have the parental support. If the parent support is not there it’s hard for the school to survive. We make it feasible for them to be involved.”

Additional Resources:

Faith and Freedom Coalition
Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity
Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice
Foundation for Excellence in Education
Georgia Center for Opportunity
Georgia Public Policy Foundation
Westside Atlanta Charter School

(Mike Klein specializes in criminal justice, public education and economic development journalism and event production. He has held leadership positions with several media organizations including CNN as Vice President of News Production. Mike on LinkedIn.)

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April 27, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Corrections Article Published by Franklin Center for Government

Mike Klein

This article was published on Monday, November 21 by the Franklin Center for Government:

Georgia’s criminal justice reform special council has delivered a recipe of recommendations that, if adopted by the General Assembly next year, could eventually shorten behind-the-bars time for some nonviolent offenders.  It would also change the direction for treatment of adult inmates whose needs might better be addressed in mental health settings than state prisons.

The executive summary states, “Many of the policy proposals in this report focus on improving community-based supervising, sanctions and services as well as other practices proven to reduce recidivism, which are essential to improving public safety.”

Governor Nathan Deal’s office released the 25-page report but no news conference was held.  The release had a more subdued feeling than a public event last spring when the governor, lieutenant governor, house speaker, state Supreme Court chief justice, attorney general and other elected officials stepped to a podium to announce criminal justice reform.

Georgia spends more than $1 billion dollars per year on adult incarcerations.  Maintaining state prisons is the second fastest growing segment of the state budget – behind only Medicaid – and by some estimates prison system expansion could cost the state another quarter billion dollars within five years.  Georgia currently houses 55,000 adult inmates, most of whom are men.

The Georgia challenge is how to balance public safety, potentially revise sentencing structure, provide alternative sentencing resources and acknowledge cost considerations in such a way that the state is not considered soft on crime – especially important in a 2012 election year.

The special council recommended expansion of drug, mental health and veterans’ courts that could offer alternatives to incarceration, including day-reporting centers.  More than 3,200 people whose only offense is personal drug possession are admitted to Georgia prisons each year.  One-fourth of all admissions are for persons whose major need is mental health services.

The council said supervision for 156,000 adults sentenced to probation and 22,000 on parole after state prison terms also needs a closer look.  Council members wrote that “supervision agencies do not have the resources required to supervise offenders adequately.”  An electronic reporting pilot project is already being conducted this year with low-risk adult parolees.

Several recommendations largely fall along the lines of implementing ideas that make sense without needing revolutionary change to the overall criminal justice approach.  For instance, the council said Georgia should increase the dollar value of felony shoplifting from $350 to $700.  The felony threshold for some theft crimes could be tripled from $500 to $1,500.

The council also proposed decriminalization of minor traffic offenses; those would become violations and not misdemeanors.  This would help to clear local court system calendars, reserving the court’s time for felony and other types of cases and saving taxpayer dollars.

There was a general consensus resources could be coordinated better on many levels to avoid duplication of effort, again to save time and resources.

Governor Deal congratulated the special council for delivering a “comprehensive, serious and well-crafted report” but he also acknowledged its recommendations are just “a starting point.”  A bipartisan legislative committee will be charged with determining what if any part of the council’s work can be turned into legislation that will be palatable during an election year.  Legislators return to Atlanta in January, although committees are already meeting on several topics.

Here is a link to the Georgia Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform complete report.

(Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation)

November 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Georgia Palette Likely To Become Redder; Deal – Barnes No Sure Thing

This Georgia election preview was written for the Franklin Center for Government.

Georgia’s political palette will likely become deeper Red after next Tuesday, but whether that includes the Republican Party winning its third consecutive Governor’s Office election is uncertain.

Two national organizations released polls this week that show Republican Nathan Deal up 10% over Democrat Roy Barnes but should those vote projections become vote percentages, they would not be enough to avert a late November run-off on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

The Rasmussen Reports 2010 Gubernatorial Scorecard and SurveyUSA produced identical results with Deal leading Barnes 49% to 39%.  A majority vote – 50% plus one vote — is required to win statewide office in Georgia.  Deal is a retired nine-term congressmen and Barnes served one term as Governor from 1999 to 2003 after eleven terms as a state senator or representative.

Rasmussen moved Georgia from “Leans GOP” to “Solid GOP” after a Sunday, October 24 telephone poll of 750 likely voters statewide.   Libertarian Party candidate John Monds received 5%.  The remainder indicated preference for another candidate or said they are undecided.

The SurveyUSA sample was larger, 1,100 persons interviewed by telephone over four days, Thursday, October 21 through Sunday, October 24.   The SurveyUSA outcome was identical to Rasmussen, 49% for Deal and 39% for Barnes, but Libertarian candidate Monds polled 8%.  Some analysts believe the likelihood of a November 30 gubernatorial run-off would increase if the Monds vote exceeds 5%.

The Deal campaign strategy has been to criticize nearly everything about the first Barnes administration.  It has tried to portray Barnes as an over-the-top President Barack Obama style liberal Democrat.   The Barnes strategy has been to question Deal’s personal and business ethics.  Lately, Barnes has attacked Deal for his position on a Georgia rape shield law during Deal’s tenure in the state Senate.

Down the ballot, Republicans are poised to turn an already Red state an even deeper shade of Red.   U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson is heavily favored over Democrat Michael Thurmond whose candidacy has not generated traction.  SurveyUSA shows Isakson ahead by 24% and Rasmussen has Isakson ahead by 15%. The incumbent Isakson raised some $9.1 million and Thurmond raised less than $300,000.

Republicans currently hold seven of the state’s 13 congressional seats.  Three Republican incumbents are unopposed and Republicans are favored to retain the other four seats.  Two incumbent Democrats are also in the GOP sights, Jim Marshall in central Georgia and Sanford Bishop in southwest Georgia.

The 62-year-old Marshall is running an 8th Congressional District toss-up race against 40-year-old Republican state legislator Austin Scott.  Marshall is a four-term economic conservative who supports extension of the George W. Bush tax cuts.  The former Macon mayor also has strong military credentials and he has been a strong advocate for Robins Air Force Base but all of that aside, Marshall might be swept away by anti-Democrat, anti-incumbent sentiment.

Republicans also believe they can prevail in southwest Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District where state legislator Mike Keown will try to unseat nine-term Democrat Bishop.   The congressman might be hurt by recent reports that Bishop steered congressional caucus scholarship money to his own family.

Republicans will continue to hold solid state Senate and House voting majorities after next Tuesday.   The party fielded strong candidates in eight other contested statewide office races.  Democratic incumbents are not seeking re-election in three of those eight races.

Much less certain is how Georgia voters will respond to a ballot measure that would fund statewide trauma care expansion by imposing a new $10 annual fee on nearly all privately owned vehicles.

The business community, the hospital industry and a wide range of Republican and Democratic leaders support the new fee.  But some recent sentiment suggests voters are not much interested in new fees and taxes, even though large sections of Georgia have little or no available trauma health care.  Business leaders launched Yes2SaveLives.Com to support the trauma care measure.

Mike Klein is Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Atlanta Schools Black Eye: Report Claims Educators Cheated

This article was published by the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.

An independent investigation under the direction of a blue ribbon commission has cited 109 Atlanta Public School principals, assistant principals and others for alleged cheating on student standardized tests.  Cheating evidence was cited in 58 of Atlanta’s 84 public schools.

Investigators focused on 2009 tests that had abnormally high numbers of erasures and changed answers.  The most serious violations were identified in one dozen schools where 78 educators were cited, though not by name because of possible legal action.  The panel did not have authority to impose discipline that could range from reprimands to loss of teaching license. Continue reading

August 4, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Roy to Nathan to Karen … Who’s Gonna Put Us Back to Work?

Georgians can safely bet the farm their next governor will say he or she can put Georgians back to work.

One candidate is a former governor.  One was investigated for allegedly trying to influence lucrative deals that would directly benefit him and a business associate.  One is Georgia’s former secretary of state who proved a strong woman really can break through the glass ceiling without going to college.

Democratic nominee Roy Barnes is a multi-millionaire trial attorney.  He served a single four-year term as governor but his reign ended when Barnes was upset during his 2002 re-election bid.  The governor alienated teachers during his tenure but now Barnes is campaigning as their friend.   Barnes is a fiscal conservative who is media savvy, a masterful speaker and he has the state’s largest war chest. Continue reading

July 24, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment