By Joe Earle

A group of Chamblee Middle School parents is organizing efforts to consider converting the school to a charter school.

“A lot of people have been bringing it up in different contexts,” said Jan Levie, a member of the school council and one of four parents promoting the effort. “We’ve just really been saddened by all the chaos down at the central office and the DeKalb County school system.”

More than 100 parents, teachers and school administrators attended a panel discussion at the school May 12 organized by the four parents – Levie, Laura Stevenson, Beverly Moon and Betsy Ressler-Craig.

State and county school officials, parents from other charter schools and Dist. 40 Sen. Dan Weber, who has sponsored charter school legislation, talked to the group about how and why to organize a charter school effort.

A charter school typically has more autonomy in its operations than other public schools. It is granted freedom from some rules in return for increased accountability regarding its results, members of the panel said. Charter schools must be approved by county and state school officials.

“It’s going to take all of you collectively, if this is what you want, to make it this happen,” Nicole Knighten, director of governmental relations and special projects for the DeKalb school system, told the parents during the panel discussion. “Chartering is really not for everyone.”

Charter schools often are operated by a combination of parents and teachers, panel members said.

“A charter is strong because it unites teachers and parents,” said Donna Nall, past chair of the executive council at Peachtree Charter Middle School. “The reason for becoming a charter is not ‘I don’t like this’ or ‘I don’t like that.’ It’s a positive: ‘What’s best for our kids?’ As parents and teachers, there’s a lot of work ahead for you. It is a lot of work. But it’s worth it.”

Several parents at the meeting seemed impressed with the idea.

“I say, ‘Go for it,’” said parent John Carel, whose son, Duncan, is a sixth grader. “I think it should go forward.”

Chamblee Middle houses a magnet program for high achievers as well as a program for students who live in the area. A charter, some parents suggested, might be drafted to try to help those the programs work better together. Also, converting the middle school to a charter operation might mean it could better coordinate with Chamblee Charter High School, some parents said.

“It’s not so much that Chamblee is not a good school but that people feel like it could be a better school,” Stevenson said.

The process of petitioning the county and state to make Chamblee Middle a charter school could take at least two years, Stevenson said. The earliest the conversion likely could be completed would be the 2012-13 school year.

The application program requires the school community to determine the reasons Chamblee would better operate as a charter school and to draw up a plan for the school. Stevenson said that to start the charter application process, parents will organize committees to study of the school.

“When we get back to the school in August, we hope to hit the ground running in continuing to get people involved,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson said she was convinced the community would be able to pull together the parent volunteers needed to conduct the charter study and prepare a proposal.

“People in this community have always taken the attitude that if we did have something we need in our schools, that we’ll work to get it done,” she said.