Fourth in a series about new Georgia start-up public charter schools
By Mike Klein
Playing in the dirt will have an educational twist when Chattahoochee Hills Charter School opens next Monday in south Fulton County. With its emphasis on the environment, learning will take place inside and outside and classrooms will have removable walls that open to the great outdoors for hybrid inside – outside learning.
“We are part of the natural world,” said Chattahoochee founding Principal Chad Webb. “It takes all of us to create an environment that is safe and healthy and sustainable. I need individuals who want to get down and dirty with the scholars. Whatever we can do to create responsibility, stewardship and sustainability is our goal.”
With its emphasis on nature, all kids will engage in “community investigations.” This year first graders will reintroduce native plants to campus retention ponds. Eventually each classroom will cultivate an organic garden and professional chefs will teach Chattahoochee Charter kids how to prepare meals with garden crops when the new cafeteria kitchen is ready next year.
Three hundred K-5 students are enrolled. The wait list is 50 students. Most children reside in south Fulton with a heavy concentration from the Serenbe community that emphasizes nature, well-being and fulfillment.
Chattahoochee Hills also enrolled students from Atlanta, Palmetto, Hapeville, Fairburn and Union City. “We have a large net,” said Webb. School transportation is not an option so parents must make their own travel plans, regardless of distance.
Next Monday’s opening is two or three weeks later than when most Georgia public school systems re-opened and Webb said the reason is simple, “The buildings were not ready.” Thirteen buildings are being constructed on an 11-acre campus with three more acres still available for expansion.
This year Chattahoochee Charter will have traditional holiday breaks in November, December and a spring break. Whether the school adopts a more staggered calendar with multiple breaks similar to many public school systems will be decided next year.
Five years in development, Chattahoochee Hills received a state commission charter only to see that authorization vanish when the Georgia Supreme Court vaporized the state charter schools commission. Chattahoochee will open with Fulton County local authorization.
This year’s population is almost equally split between students who attended private and public school last year. Chattahoochee will open with 24 classroom, special education and reading teachers with an 18-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, less for kindergarten classrooms. Before and after school care will be available with a separate staff.
Webb said Chattahoochee has a $3.3 million first year operational budget with total personnel the largest obligation at $2 million. The school anticipates $8,600 in per pupil public funding and it has a very aggressive private fund-raising campaign. First year-construction costs came in at $3.6 million. The next fund-raising phase will finance new sixth grade facilities, an administration building with a sports gymnasium and cafeteria that should be finished in time for the fall 2015 school year. Sixth grade will be added next year, seventh grade in fall 2016 and eighth grade in fall 2017.
With its emphasis on arts, agriculture and the environment Chattahoochee Charter has forged many unique partnerships that include the nearby 840-acre Cochran Mill Nature Center and the 100-acre Many Fold Farm that raises sheep for meat and cheese production. The nature center and farm both offer educational programs for kids.
Science will be integrated into all subjects and Webb said teachers who survived the six-hour interview process must have an appreciation for nature. “I told my staff, when you go home with dirt on your clothes you had a good day,” said Webb, “because you were really immersed in learning and you had the kids engaged. I told all the staff that has been hired, I need individuals who want go get down and dirty, literally.”
Wednesday: Atlanta Classical Academy