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New state charter in hand, members of the board of the Brookhaven Innovation Academy are looking for a new home, a new leader and financial contributions.

“Now the work starts, the operational work,” Bates Mattison, chairman of the school’s board and a member of Brookhaven City Council, said after the State Charter Schools Commission voted unanimously Aug. 26 to approve a charter for the Brookhaven-based school that will emphasize science, technology and math classes.

“We really do have a tremendous amount of work to do.”

The board hopes to settle on a location for the school by October, Mattison said.

City officials recently proposed buying the former Skyland school building from the state, which now uses it for offices. School board members are negotiating to use that building to house the school, Mattison said, but if that location doesn’t work out, board members are considering several other possible sites.

“There’s been a lot more deliberation about Skyland than anywhere else,” Mattison said, adding that he removed himself from the negotiations because he sits on both the City Council and the school board. Negotiators include former state Rep. Ed Lindsey of Buckhead, a new board member, Mattison said.
The new school board also must quickly hire a head of school, the board chairman said. That new school leader then will begin assembling the faculty, he said.

Backers had sought state approval of the school for two years. Their original proposal was voted down last year, so they returned this year with a plan they believed addressed the commission’s objections.

Mattison told the commission members that during the presentation last year, he felt like a condemned man facing his executioners. “This year, I feel like a kid on Christmas morning,” he said.

“I am pleased you came back for the second year,” commission member Tony Lowden said. “The only way Georgia is going to get better is if we give folks choices and better schools … Thank you for coming back for a second bite of the apple. We didn’t execute you, we just delayed you.”

Mattison said that dealing with the commission’s complaints forced the board to make the school plan stronger. “The State Charter Schools Commission put us through paces,” he said. “We’re pretty well detailed about how we’re going to run this school. … Now it’s a question of operational execution.”

One change the state required was to expand the number of members on the school board and reduce the number of Brookhaven City Council members on the board. At full size, the self-perpetuating board will be composed of 14 members, including two named by Brookhaven City Council.

The school is scheduled to open in August of 2016. The board plans to open with about 420 students, chosen by lottery from a statewide pool of applicants, in kindergarten through sixth grade, according to its webpage. By fall 2018, the school will grow to 540 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Mattison said he thought that because the school would offer transportation only to and from MARTA, applicants likely would come from nearby communities. “If they want to bus their kids or fly them up from Savannah, that’s fine. We’ll take ’em,” he said. But he said he thought most applicants would come “from around where we’re located.”

Potential students will be able to sign up for the lottery on the school’s website,

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.