If you walk in through the wrong front door, it can take a few minutes to find the Leadership Preparatory Academy. It sits in the labyrinthine west wing of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, and even the charter school’s principal, Frankie Callaway, sometimes thinks she’s lost.
In a month, the school will open. It’s hired 10 teachers and three administrators, including Callaway. On Aug. 9, nearly 200 students will walk through the front doors, Callaway said this month. They’ve capped enrollment at 300 students, and they’re still accepting applications, she said.
“They’re from (DeKalb County’s) northeast, south and west, and that’s a good thing,” Callaway said.
The school will open grades from kindergarten to fifth, and third and fifth are already full, she said. The class sizes will be between 15 and 18 students.
The school is open to students living within the county’s borders, Callaway said. It will meet all state educational and curriculum requirements; leadership teaching would be infused into the instruction, she said. Students will be instructed with texts such as The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a widely-known book by business professor and author Stephen Covey. His book tells readers among other things, to be proactive, visualize the end result of your goals and learn the principles of integrity.
All classes include leadership components. In English class, students will read literature that often centers on leadership themes such as The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, a story about a boy and his relationship with a tree that sacrifices itself to help him – a key leadership lesson. While a math class wouldn’t easily lend itself to leadership lessons, teachers will be asked to infuse those in them. That could be as simple as placing a pupil at the front of a moving line one day and then moving him to the middle the next day so he better understands hierarchy, she said.
“The caboose is just as important as the engine,” Callaway said. “The state was very excited that we are actually boosting leadership.”
The school also will require parents to donate at least 20 hours of time volunteering at the school, she said. If parents are unwilling to meet the requirement, their child’s spot could be given to another on the school’s waiting list, she said. Parent-teacher conferences, PTA meetings and field trips will count toward that time.
Michelle Antoine, 34, of Lithonia will have her 5-year-old son in kindergarten at the school this year. She said she didn’t mind the time commitment.
“That’s something that’s new for me,” she said. “But it helps the students as well as it helps the school.”
Antoine said she joined the school because her son had shown an early knack for leadership.
“Other children, they follow him,” she said. “Other adults, he seems to get their attention.”
Two fellow charter schools will also open their doors to students this fall: The Museum School of Avondale Estates and Peachtree Hope Charter School. Both were denied charters through the DeKalb County Board of Education but reapplied through the state’s charter school office – an appeal of sorts – and received their charters. These sorts of disagreements over home rule and state control over local money have sparked a lawsuit between several metro Atlanta school systems, including DeKalb, and the state Department of Education that has yet to be resolved.
The Leadership Preparatory Academy’s charter was initially denied in 2008 because board members did not believe the school was original enough. When the organization reapplied the next year, the board approved it.
“The school’s not all about the (leadership) position,” Callaway said. “We are stressing self-knowledge, knowledge of others and knowledge of leadership skills. … There’s so much in that as what we should do as a person.”