Lillian Ryan, a board member at the DeKalb Preparatory Academy, said it is a tremendous gift that the DeKalb County School District (DCSD) is allowing DeKalb Prep to use the old Glen Haven Elementary building.
Glen Haven, closed last year under then-Interim Superintendent Ramona Tyson’s redistricting plan, is located off Austin Drive in Decatur. Recently, the DeKalb County School Board approved DeKalb Prep’s five-year charter and negotiated a lease agreement that allows the school to use the decommissioned Glen Haven facility rent-free.
“There are six other [volunteer] board members and many of them live in DeKalb and Decatur, and they’ve been trying to get a charter school in this area for around three years,” Ryan said.
The new school will be run by the education management company Mosaica, which manages 90 schools in the United States and abroad, and serves approximately 14,000 students. Ryan said Mosaica works directly with the board and has developed a curriculum based on logic and critical thinking.
“It’s not like when I went to school and we had to memorize everything. For example, the emphasis isn’t put on memorizing the date Columbus sailed to the Americas, but rather the understanding of why he would leave Europe and come here in the first place,” Ryan said.
Additionally, Ryan said DeKalb Prep has a seven-and-a-half-hour school day and an extended school calendar of 192 days, compared with the typical 180-day calendar used by most public school systems.
“Over the entire term it’s almost an extra year of school for K-12, so you’ve almost got to come out better,” Ryan said.
DeKalb Prep Board Chairwoman Laura Crawley said the school is working closely with DeKalb County and is, in a way, grateful that the school had a three-and-a-half-year struggle trying to get its charter approved.
“We were turned down three times but when you think about it, starting a school that’s going to serve children and families really shouldn’t be easy; it should be a challenge,” Crawley said.
Crawley said she got involved with the creation of DeKalb Prep because she thinks one of the best ways to improve public education is to provide alternatives to those students and parents who might not fit in a traditional school setting.
“Every school isn’t right for every kid and you don’t need to have exactly the same model to serve every community,” Crawley said.
DeKalb Prep will serve grades kindergarten through fourth grade, adding a grade each year until it reaches eighth grade. Crawley said one of the advantages of the school is that it has its own board to serve parents and students, unlike a larger school system whose board oversees dozens, or in some cases, hundreds of schools.
Mosaica founder Gene Eidelman, started the company with his wife Dawn in 1997. Eidelman said he is committed to having the best school in the area and told parents at a recent community meeting they should expect the same.
“I want you to know this is going to be a very tough school—be prepared because we’re going to have very high expectations for your children,” Eidelman told parents. He also said parents with a student enrolled at DeKalb Prep would be expected to volunteer a certain number of hours each year.
Keisha Owens, who has a son in kindergarten and lives a mile away from where DeKalb Prep will be located, said she is excited that a charter school is opening in her neighborhood. Owens said it is important that parents have the option to send their child to a charter school to get a better education.
“DeKalb Prep will have the opportunity to make their own decision and it’s less red tape since they won’t be directly influenced by the DeKalb Board of Education,” Owens said.
DeKalb Prep’s enrollment goal is approximately 430 students and it plans to open its doors at the beginning of next school year. Since Glen Haven has only been closed for a little more than a year, the building just needed a few minor renovations, Ryan said.
“We’re hoping to get a grant from the federal government for basically a start-up fund. I think there has been some slight vandalism; people have stolen the copper out of the air conditioning units,” Ryan said. “We also want to provide iPads and laptops for each child, so they don’t have to carry too many books back and forth to class.”