Allegra Johnson, chairwoman of the Dunwoody Parents Concerned about Quality Education.
Allegra Johnson, chairwoman of the Dunwoody Parents Concerned about Quality Education.

Charter schools, individual public schools operated by local groups, have existed in Georgia for years, but a “charter cluster” -– made up of all the schools clustered around a particular high school -– is a relatively new concept in the state.

The charter cluster idea is proving popular in DeKalb County. Proposals for charter clusters have been discussed by parents of students in several areas of the county, including Dunwoody.

Allegra Johnson chairs Dunwoody Parents Concerned About Quality Education, a new volunteer group working to improve Dunwoody’s schools. The organization is supporting legislative efforts to create a separate city school system in Dunwoody and community efforts to create a charter cluster of the schools in the city. The Dunwoody Reporter asked Johnson to discuss how a charter cluster might work.

Q. How would a “charter school cluster” work, and what would be the advantage of creating one in Dunwoody or Brookhaven?

A. A high school charter cluster — a seamless K-12, top-down high school cluster with a middle school and elementary school following in line — brings a feeder pattern together to improve the overall education of a student starting in elementary school, continuing to middle school, and ultimately receiving a high school diploma. It specifies the goals of each school in that specific feeder pattern.

The objective is the same — graduate from an outstanding high school — which only becomes that way if students are properly prepared before they get there. The advantage would be that it is the same conversation we need to have if we become our own school system.

Q. How would a “charter cluster” be different from an individual charter school or a group of charter schools in the same city?

A. Instead of acting individually and only concentrating on one school, we come together and concentrate on all students being properly educated at every level — elementary, middle and high school.

Q. Several schools in Dunwoody already are charter schools. What would being part of a charter cluster mean for existing charter schools?

A. Pieces of their petitions would become part of the cluster petition. A conversion charter cluster is not asking any school to give up what they have; instead, it is a process of improving a system that may already be in existence, but also acknowledging that there are some processes that need to be reworked and some innovative programs in existence that may be beneficial to certain students in the feeder pattern.

Q. Wouldn’t the schools in a “charter cluster” be financed through the DeKalb County school system? So, couldn’t schools in the cluster still face conflicts with the district over teacher pay and other financial issues?

A. Yes, a conversion charter is financed by DeKalb County, but the way a petition is written specifies what that cluster would like to have more control over. A petition not only covers curriculum and human resources, it also covers other areas, i.e., food service, safety and transportation. However, a petition can be written to show how we would serve our students in the DHS cluster.