Macon’s new charter school to open its doors

The walls are up. The furniture is in. The teachers are hired and ready.

As the new school year begins, one school will open its doors for the first time Aug. 4. Workers have been putting final touches on the Academy for Classical Education in Macon right up until the week before school starts.

It’s been a hard, yet exciting process, co-founder Laura Perkins said.

“So many things go into keeping the balls in the air, from making sure books are coming in to making sure the desks are coming in,” Perkins said. “All those different things that, as a building principal, you don’t always have to worry about. In this situation, you worry about everything from the AC working to the plumbing working to instruction. ... It’s the whole gamut.”

The school, which sits in a renovated building on New Forsyth Road, has been planned for a while. It’s an effort to offer a different type of education that focuses on reading and writing.

A charter school is an independent public school, usually formed by a group of community members, parents or teachers. It operates under a charter, or contract, and has flexibility from certain local and state rules in exchange for a higher level of accountability for raising student achievement. There are 315 charter schools in Georgia, according to the Georgia Charter Schools Association.

Perkins, a former principal at Westside High School, and Esterine Stokes, a former graduation coach at Westside, decided to open the school after hearing from students who were unsatisfied with their education.

Some educators believe the new, progressive form of education no longer focuses on deep, rich learning, Perkins said.

So, the Academy for Classical Education was formed and, as news spread, the waiting list began to grow.

Now, the school has 760 kindergarten through eighth-graders enrolled, and another 700 are on a waiting list.

So far, about 14 students have dropped out because their parents are moving, and school officials have dipped into the waiting list. Perkins vividly remembers informing one parent that her child had made the cut.

“I thought she was going to cry on the phone,” Perkins said.

The academy’s list is part of a trend of long waits for charter schools.

According to recent data, there has been a 6.7 percent increase in the number of Georgia charter schools that hold lotteries. When a charter school receives more applications than open slots, it must draw students’ names in a lottery. Nationwide, the number of names on charter waiting lists increased by 13 percent last school year, according to the Georgia Charter Schools Association.

“It’s very distressing when charter schools become associated with waiting lists because it discourages people from even applying,” said Nina Rubin, communications director for Georgia Charter Schools. “At the same time, it proves the demand and the need for more public school options, more charter options across the state.”

At Macon’s new charter school, those who got in are gearing up for a new year at a new school. Officials have hired 48 teachers and 69 total employees.

One of the biggest concerns for parents and staff has been transportation. It can always be an issue on the first day of school, but especially at a new school where parents must provide transportation for their children, Perkins said.

For that reason, the school is hosting transportation practice the Saturday before school starts. Parents will drop off their children and then, 30 minutes later, pick them up.

Transportation is just one of several challenges school officials have faced as they open the charter academy. While workers have been making some minor adjustments to the building, the school is ready and the staff is enthusiastic, Perkins said.

“It has been seven days a week, easily 15 hours a day sometimes. But we choose to do this,” she said.

“Just like parents chose us, we chose to get into this. So, it’s really a labor of love, and we want to live up to what parents want.”