Three incredible, powerhouse women are opening new charter schools in Georgia this year, and you need to know about them. Nikki Grier, Alaina Chipman-Leeks, and Patrice Meadows were approved by the State Charter Schools Commission (SCSC) in 2019 to open new charter schools this August. Collectively, this is the largest number of schools led by a founding African-American female leader to gain approval in SCSC history. Each founder will serve as the school leader for their respective schools, located in Lithia Springs, College Park and Southwest Atlanta.
“This group of newly approved schools represents the promise of a better educational opportunity for Georgia students and families,” said State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia Executive Director Lauren Holcomb. “We look forward to working with them over the coming months to ensure they deliver on that promise when they welcome students.”
How They Did It
Gaining experience as public school teachers, growing into school leadership positions and learning a ton along the way– these women took a critical leap in Spring of 2018. They applied to the GCSA Charter Incubator Fellowship. The fellowship, which touts a 100% petition approval rating for the past two consecutive years, supports leaders who want to launch and lead new charter schools in Georgia. After completing a rigorous interview process, they began their journey in Summer 2018, just ten months before submitting their final charter school petition to the state authorizer. The Fellowship prepared the leaders through 1:1 coaching, training from leading industry experts, talent-sourcing for board members, and so much more.
Each section of the petition was covered through in-depth and engaging trainings. This empowered the women to develop professionally while critically considering every aspect of the school environment they are designing for future students. Being a homegrown program, the Incubator Fellowship has deeply-rooted relationships and resources across the state. This gave the fellows access to everything from facilities and furniture to funding and founding educators.
Why Did They Choose the GCSA Charter Incubator Fellowship
Nikki Grier, who began her career as an Engineer and transitioned into education over a decade ago, says, “A few critical differentiators for my decision are the way the Fellowship provides an intimate context of the Georgia landscape, it’s built for the working professional with a full-time job, and they provided resources I couldn’t find anywhere else.” While some fellows worked full-time while in Year One of the Fellowship, others opted to take a $75,000 grant and work on their school model full-time.
Having extensive experience in charter school leadership, Alaina Chipman-Leeks was seeking a more connected community of founders. Alaina beautifully reflected on her intentionality in choosing the Fellowship saying, “I chose the Fellowship because of the power of the cohort and people doing this alongside me, experiencing the same challenges and excitement. The bond is irreplaceable, the ways they support me today, and will continue after we open the school.”
Patrice had high expectations prior to joining the Fellowship, and found it to be “above and beyond what she thought it would be.” Patrice also spoke to the Fellowship’s access and support saying, “It provides a community of brilliant leaders who are doing the same work in similar communities, and the resources to truly be successful. It allows me to connect to resources I would have never been able to access, people, experiences, conversations, trainings — that have helped to shape the vision and preparation for our school. It’s really been so amazing to be a part of the Incubator Fellowship.”
Why They Are Opening Public Charter Schools
Charter schools are public schools. In Georgia, charter schools receive less funding and resources than traditional public schools, but the value for most Georgia charter school leaders lies in the ability to create school choice options in the community they serve. The motivation for these Incubator alumni is no different, and the rationale is simple. As Alaina put it, “school choice is important for every community. Choice is important in everything we do— where we shop, eat, healthcare— why not schools? Who knows your child better than you do? Why shouldn’t a parent have the flexibility and the freedom to choose the school model that is best for their child? For parents, for students– it is so important.”
Patrice spoke about school choice as it relates to quality and healthy communities adding, “Part of what I believe makes a successful community is having quality education, healthcare and affordable housing. In part of this three part triad of what makes a strong community, we will provide a quality option at the middle school level, to ensure students are prepared to enter college preparatory classes.”
So, What Makes Their Schools Different?
Nikki Grier, Founding School Leader and CEO of D.E.L.T.A. STEAM Academy, will bring the second school choice option and the only STEAM-immersion school to Douglas County. Nikki shared that she was called to action by “two jarring statistics: 1) the fact that only 9% of professionals working in STEAM are African-American, 2) African-Americans have the highest poverty rate according to 2018 census data.” When she put these two statistics together, it just clicked! “Knowing that, it makes sense that students need a clear pathway of exposure and experience, that gains them access to more lucrative careers. Once they have the training and exposure, they can move into STEAM careers and better support their communities by increasing wealth.”
Alaina Chipman-Leeks, Founding School Director of Atlanta Unbound Academy, is excited about the rich history and future of the College Park, with “such a wealth of organizations in that area, AUA is really excited about connecting with new partners to advance student opportunities.” Her commitment to launch a school comes from the impact of the school-to-prison pipeline. She explains that “statistics around black and brown people currently incarcerated are compelling. If you follow the history and trajectory back to academic achievement— those two are deeply correlated. Creating a successful academic and cultural environment, where 100% of our students receive individualized attention that empowers them to become academically successful will lead to a lifetime of success for themselves and their communities.”
Patrice Meadows, Founding School Leader of Atlanta Smart Academy, will focus on “critical thinking and project-based learning in science, math and the arts.” Her school will train students to think critically and creatively as they grow into “solutionist” in a world where innovative problem solvers are highly-valued and sought after. Her decision to launch a school evolved out of her desire to increase the literacy rates of students in Southwest Atlanta. She shares, “Over the years the number of 8th grade students that are at grade level or above in reading in Southwest Atlanta has remained below 25%, though it has fluctuated. That means only a quarter of our students have had access to strong careers, or going into college prepared to access the curriculum.”
Each of these new charter schools are slated to open in Fall 2020, and currently enrolling students in various grade levels.
Interested in the Charter Incubator Fellowship?
The application is currently open for Spring 2020. Get a $1,000 referral bonus for recommending a great candidate!
Apply or Refer online at www.gacharters.org/applyincubator.
2nd deadline: February 28, 2020.
3rd deadline: May 28, 2020
Learn more about each of the Founding School Leaders and their schools below. Like and follow them on social media.
D.E.L.T.A. STEAM Academy is a K-8 public charter school, providing students in Douglas, South Fulton, and South Cobb counties and Atlanta Public Schools with a rigorous, STEAM-immersion curriculum that will equip students with the critical and creative thinking skills that are necessary to succeed in any college or career.
Atlanta Unbound Academy (AUA) will be a K-8 school community that provides a rigorous, empowering, and culturally relevant education to the most underserved students in Atlanta.
Within an engaging, restorative school community, and with an unwavering focus on high academic growth, Atlanta SMART Academy equips every 5th-8th grade solutionist for success in high school, college and career. Atlanta SMART Academy is a conduit from elementary school to high school where students develop the critical thinking skills to thrive in a constantly evolving society. We accomplish this by providing a well-rounded education through our four key innovations: project-based learning, extended time, arts-infusion and an advanced curriculum.