Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa initially recommended the board deny the Smyrna Academy of Excellence’s five-year start-up petition. However, school organizers satisfied enough of Hinojosa’s concerns Wednesday to convince the board to give them more time.
“It seems that we’re possibly close to having a match. I’d like to give them the opportunity to do that,” Tim Stultz said while making his recommendation to move the deadline to 5 p.m. Monday.
School organizers were grateful for the extension.
“Any opportunity to get to the finish line is a great opportunity,” Jimmy Arispe, chair of the school’s governing board, said after the meeting.
Hinojosa recommended rejecting the petition because organizers had not addressed such issues as how they will work with special-needs students, provide food services, and afford start-up costs and instructional salaries.
On Wednesday, Arispe and his fellow organizers addressed many of those issues, but the biggest concern remained the school’s location. Between now and Monday, his 12-member governing board will work with a Marietta-based development company, McCay Kinchin and Associates LLC, to narrow down a location.
“We know what our first location will be, we just have to get there really quick,” said Arispe, a former Cobb educator whose most recent job was serving as superintendent of schools in Cherokee, N. C. He previously taught at Brown, Nickajack and Green Acres elementary schools and was an assistant principal at Campbell Middle School.
Organizers declined to reveal the location so as to not hamper negotiations with the property owner, saying only that they are considering the East-West Connector in south Cobb.
During the hour-long discussion about the petition, board members asked a lot of questions about the school, the curriculum and the grades it will serve.
“What do you feel that you’re not getting from your public school that you’re going to get in your school?” asked Lynnda Eagle, who represents northwest Cobb.
Arispe said the school would keep students with the same teachers for three to four years at a time, engage students in a creative-thinking process that organizers believe is missing in Cobb and guarantee a 100 percent graduation rate.
Eagle also asked how the school will be funded, aside from any money they receive through the district, and if their partners in education, which include Chattahoochee Tech, Kennesaw State University and Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, have committed any money.
“Their responsibility and commitment to us is not in the form of dollars,” Arispe said. “It’s more in the form of services in their expertise.”
However, he said organizers will apply for a $12.9 million Race to the Top grant. If awarded in October, they could put approximately $10 million of that towards facility costs. The application deadline is mid-July.
Eagle said she’s concerned that organizers are planning to start the school with nearly 700 students.
“If you started out smaller, you could get it going,” she said.
North Cobb’s Kathleen Angelucci said she applauded the school’s effort but also thinks organizers are over-reaching in trying to serve 680 students in kindergarten through sixth grade its first year.
“Cobb County wants charter schools to be successful … but it’s our duty to make certain everything is there,” she said. “We just want to make darn sure because these are our kids.”
Alison Bartlett, who represents central Cobb, asked what they were doing to address special-needs students, how they will provide food services and if the school will consider demographics.
Janet Rau, the academic chair for the school, said special needs would be handled through project-based learning, that they have a private partnership for free food services and that they plan to serve a diverse group of students.
She also said that the 12-member board includes three black people, one Hispanic and eight white people.
Smyrna Academy of Excellence submitted its letter of intent for a charter petition on Jan. 4 for a kindergarten through 12th-grade science, technology, engineering and math charter school.
The school hopes to open in fall 2013 and add a grade level each year for the next six years, with the first graduating class planned for Spring 2020 with approximately 1,880 students.
Organizers say around 1,900 students have applied to attend and that they would be selected through a lottery. Additionally, Arispe said they have received nearly 100 job applications from “highly qualified” teachers.
The board also talked about a charter petition renewal from Walton High School, but that conversation only lasted about five minutes.
Walton, which opened in 1975, became one of the first high schools in Georgia to obtain charter status in 1998. This will be the third five-year charter renewal request by the school.
The board is set to vote on both petitions during its June 28 night meeting.