International Community School (ICS) opened in 2002 to help improve the educational circumstances refugee children relocated to DeKalb County from around the world. Today, the K-5 public charter school serves more than 400 immigrants, refugees and local students from more than 30 countries who speak more than 25 languages.
Earlier this year, the DeKalb Board of Education and the Georgia Department of Education renewed the school’s charter for another five years. The renewal came just months after the school welcomed Julie Allen as Principal of the school. Allen began her career as an educator with Teacher with Teach for America in Southwest DeKalb County. Prior to serving as the head of ICS, Allen worked for Teach for America, served as assistant principal of Morris Brandon Elementary School in Atlanta, and as a teacher at Indian Creek Elementary in Clarkston. Allen says her time at Indian Creek Elementary, which also draws refugee students from Clarkston, changed her life.
“I fell in love with the community. I fell in love with the students,” said Allen. “Coming here now, I’m really able to take what I learned in Clarkston, teaching that community with a really high expectation for what education should be for all of our kids and making our way forward in that direction.”
Allen also said working at Morris Brandon, a high-performing Atlanta elementary school with a large number of resources is helpful as she works to move International Community School forward academically. Allen says one of ICS’ major assets is it’s socioeconomic, racial, religious and ethnic diversity.
“The International Community School is unlike any like any other school. It’s really a model of what the world should be,” said Allen. “Every type of diversity you can think of lives here, and not just lives here, but gets along and we embrace it. We learn that people who are different from us teach us things that we wouldn’t otherwise learn, and it makes us stronger. I would hope the whole world could become more like that.”
As principal, Allen has continued the school’s tradition of celebrating diversity. She has also worked to provide more structure and framework in the areas of school safety, curriculum, behavior management and communication with students and families. Allen says she wants the school’s educators to move forward with more intentionality and to make sure they are focused on the school’s mission, which is to serve as an International Baccalaureate World School that provides students with a “rigorous and holistic education in an intentionally diverse community of intentional learners.”
In the upcoming school year, she says International Community School will focus more heavily on data to drive instruction and help students improve academically. She also says the school is adding a new math curriculum, which it piloted this year. ICS will also work to help its students advance to higher reading levels within the guided reading program that it currently uses.
ICS also plans to more fully utilize the school’s teaching assistants, which are vital to the school because they speak the native languages of the students and families the school serves. She says many of the teaching assistants have math degrees and other specialties from their home countries. As a result, the school plans to take greater advantage of these skill sets to aid with classroom instruction. Allen believes the changes made this year and the ones planned for the next school year will pay off on the MAP Assessments and Georgia’s College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI).
“I know we will improve. I know that we will give more kids a shot at becoming what they actually really want to be, at becoming their absolute best selves, at putting their families on a more positive trajectory that has more choices for them,” says Allen. “I want to be the highest performing school in DeKalb County if not further than that. I think we really can do it, we have some really resilient and brilliant children, and we have some teachers who really have a connection to this place and care so much about it. If we come together and have intentional focus, I think we can do that.”
Allen says she wants to ensure the school is living up to its mission and that ICS students can compete with the best and brightest students in DeKalb County and beyond.