Breaking News:

Real-Time School and Business Closings




H -° L 31°
  • heavy-rain-night
    Current Conditions
    Drizzle. H -° L 31°
  • heavy-rain-day
    Drizzle. H -° L 31°
  • clear-day
    Clear. H 50° L 30°

Wsb news on-demand

00:00 | 00:00


Wsb traffic on-demand

00:00 | 00:00


Wsb weather on-demand

00:00 | 00:00

Local Education
After a rough start, Brookhaven’s charter school hits milestone

After a rough start, Brookhaven’s charter school hits milestone

After a rough start, Brookhaven’s charter school hits milestone
Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Second grade teacher Leah Owen teaches her class at Brookhaven Innovation Academy in Norcross on Thursday. The state charter school opened in 2016 and has been in a temporary facility in Norcross. But it now plans to build a permanent school building in Chamblee after securing $12 million in tax-exempt municipal bond financing. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

After a rough start, Brookhaven’s charter school hits milestone

Back when the founders of Brookhaven signed the city charter, some viewed its feeder public school system as hopelessly corrupt.

Gov. Nathan Deal had fired more than half of the members of the DeKalb school board, and the superintendent had gone down during a racketeering scandal over school construction contracts. With the district’s accreditation hanging by a thread, it wasn’t long before Brookhaven families had amassed enough signatures on a petition for their own state public charter school.

“We had a crisis going on in DeKalb County and DeKalb County schools,’’ said Brookhaven Councilman Bates Mattison, one of the school’s founders.

The charter school got off to a tough start, though, marred by high staff turnover and lagging test scores. Now, after two years of operations, Brookhaven Innovation Academy is about to hit a major milestone. It has secured up to $12 million in tax-exempt municipal bond financing for construction of a permanent school facility.

“We could not be happier,’’ said Adam Caskey, a real estate attorney who serves as chairman of the board for the school.

However, municipal bond experts, as well as charter advocates themselves, say the financing is by no means a guarantee of success. Many similar projects have gone belly up within the first few years of operations. And Brookhaven’s school doesn’t have long to prove itself.

In Georgia, public charters must convince the state within five years of operations that they can meet academic expectations, among other requirements. Brookhaven leaders learned last week that the school for the first time had met educational standards. It is expected to earn “C” grade, said Bonnie Holliday, executive director of the State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia.

However, for the 2016-17 school year, the school got an “F.” 

The Innovation Academy must perform to standards for the next two years. Otherwise, the state can come in and pull its accreditation, triggering an immediate shutdown.

It also needs to continue to convince parents that it’s a good option.

Some DeKalb public schools in Brookhaven outperform the charter school. Ashford Park Elementary earned a 91.6 overall performance rating out of a possible 100, state records show. Kittredge Magnet School, for grades four to six, reported a rating of 98.1.

Caskey said school leaders and board members have worked diligently to study best practices, conduct research and ensure good decision-making. They’ve also tackled problems, such as the poor test scores. Last week’s announcement that the school was among roughly half of 29 state charter schools that had met academic expectations affirms that the work is paying off, he said.

“Part of what we did overall in the last year was really surrounding ourselves and seeking out people who have done this before, experts in the field,’’ Caskey said.

A diverse campus

Advocates for the estimated 7,000 public charter schools in the U.S. say there’s good reason for Brookhaven to celebrate getting the bond financing. In most cases, public charter schools must dip into their limited operating budgets to support capital projects.

“Finding a facility remains one of the major challenges facing charter schools,” said Todd Ziebarth, senior vice president for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, based in Washington, D.C. “It could be a big deal, I think, if it helps them move into a better facility that could be helpful for the educational program.”

At Decide DeKalb, the panel that reviewed Brookhaven’s bond application was impressed by the school’s commitment to diversity, said Ray Gilley, the development authority’s president. It was one of the key factors that drew support, he said.

Brookhaven draws more than 500 students in grades kindergarten through 7 from all over Atlanta to the school’s temporary location on Campus Drive in Norcross. The student population is 45% white, 24.4% African-American, 18% Hispanic, and 4.4% Asian, while 8% are multi-racial and 0.2% are American Indian, state records show. That’s more diverse than some DeKalb public schools in Brookhaven, although the student population in DeKalb school district as a whole is 89% minority.

About 10.4% of the population at the charter school is economically disadvantaged, 10.8% of students have a disability and about 11.6% are English-language learners.

“They are encouraging a diverse student population. It made you really want to help them to be successful,’’ Gilley said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Social Study teacher Susannah Sawnson talks her student Timothy Lewis, 11, during 6th grade social study class at Brookhaven Innovation Academy in Norcross. The charter school is about to hit a major milestone. It has secured tax-exempt municipal bond financing to construct a million permanent school building. But the school will have to prove itself academically in upcoming years to keep its charter. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

After a rough start, Brookhaven’s charter school hits milestone

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Social Study teacher Susannah Sawnson talks her student Timothy Lewis, 11, during 6th grade social study class at Brookhaven Innovation Academy in Norcross. The charter school is about to hit a major milestone. It has secured tax-exempt municipal bond financing to construct a million permanent school building. But the school will have to prove itself academically in upcoming years to keep its charter. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Before the financing was approved, Gilley said the authority also conducted extensive interviews with Brookhaven’s leaders, and the information that was gleaned during a 90-day application process suggested the school was a good investment.

“We look at what I would say are deals that make sense for capable, competent businesses,” Gilley said.

But Gilley also noted that Decide DeKalb has a limited role in approving the bond financing. As a pass-through agency, the county has nothing to lose if the bonds default. That means investors who buy Brookhaven’s bonds won’t have any assurances that they will get their money back, unlike municipal bonds that are backed by local governments.

“We don’t have anything at risk here,’’ he said.

That’s one of the reasons that some investment firms won’t touch bond deals for charter schools.

“For us, as a firm, we generally don’t invest in that sector,” said Dean Myerow , a managing director for fixed income trading and sales at NatAlliance Securities LLC, based in New York City. Municipal bond investors want solid revenue streams and consider some of these charter school investments super dicey, he said.

One of the mistakes charters often have made has been to get into facility deals that aren’t sustainable. In many cases, their student enrollments can’t keep pace with their financial obligations, Ziebarth said.

However, Georgia, like a growing number of states, has adopted policies that trigger more dollars to support charters. This past year, state lawmakers approved legislation to provide additional funding for the schools. While charter schools must still be responsible for their own facilities expenses, the state increased state supplement funding, which advocates say improves the chance of success. During the current school year, House Bill 787 triggered more money for teacher pay raises, curriculum, classroom books and technology, according to an official at the Georgia Charter Schools Association.

‘Doesn’t need to be gaudy’

School officials are trying to be prudent with the dollars that have been secured, Caskey said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
After securing $12 million in tax-exempt bond financing, leaders of Brookhaven Innovation Academy plan to build a permanent school building in Chamblee.

After a rough start, Brookhaven’s charter school hits milestone

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
After securing $12 million in tax-exempt bond financing, leaders of Brookhaven Innovation Academy plan to build a permanent school building in Chamblee.

They say they will stay within a strict budget for construction of the 50,000 square-foot facility that is expected to have 34 classrooms, a media center, administrative offices, cafeteria and outdoor recreational facilities. The campus is expected to be built on Shallowford Road in Chamblee.

“It needs to be nice,’’ Caskey said of the school building. “It doesn’t need to be gaudy. It just needs to be a solid building that will last.”

Mattison, one of the school’s founders, said he and other parents have been impressed with the school’s focus on personalized learning for every student. Youngsters get to do a lot of hands-on projects, too, he said.

The Brookhaven councilman even decided to pull his now eighth-grade son from a gifted program at Kittredge Magnet School to attend Brookhaven Innovation. His daughter also is a student at the charter school.

Bottom line, he said, when deciding what school to enroll your children, “it’s always got to be a leap of faith for a parent.”


Meeting standard

Brookhaven Innovation Academy has a statewide attendance zone, so the State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia compares the school’s performance to that of the state as a whole, not to other public schools in the immediate area.

The academy met the state academic performance standard, according to CCRPI Content Mastery scores data in 2018.

The school’s elementary students scored 68.4 on a 100 point scale, compared to the state average of 65.7. The middle school students scored 65.9 compared to the state average of 65.1.

Content Mastery includes achievement scores in English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies.

(Source: State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia)

Funding woes

The University of Arkansas recently issued a report on the state of funding for public charter schools. “Charter School Funding: (More) Inequity in the city” showed a widening funding gap between traditional public schools and public charter schools in major cities.

Some of the findings:

  • The per-pupil disparity in funding between public schools and charters is $5,828, a slight increase over the last two years. The main reason for the gap is that local funding sources favor traditional public schools by on average $7,958 per pupil.
  • The gap can’t be explained by a higher administrative cost or a higher disadvantaged population.
  • The cities with the greatest total funding disparities included Atlanta.
  • The funding gap can be eliminated with improved local or state funding, as well as donations. The permanent fix is to develop a consistent student funding formula based on student need.

(Source: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools)

Spotting risk

The tax-exempt revenue bonds that will be sold to fund construction of the new Brookhaven Innovation Academy may offer investors two times the yield of high-quality municipal bonds.

That higher yield reflects the higher risk to investors.

Most high-quality municipal bonds today provide about 4% annual yields. But bonds that are unrated, as the Innovation Academy’s are expected to be, or of lesser quality must pay a higher return to catch the attention of investors.

Adam Caskey, chairman of the school’s board, noted that the bond underwriter did an extensive review of the project. “The bank is going to loan you money to build a school, a significant amount of money, so they’re going to make sure the school is going to be around,” he said. “No lender wants to foreclose on the school … it’s not the easiest thing to get rid of.”

Angela D. Avery, vice president of public finance at the Atlanta-based IFS Securities, which served as the underwriter for the bonds, did not respond to requests for comment.

Investors who purchase Brookhaven’s bonds will be represented by a “bondholder representative.” In this case, Hamlin Capital Management, an investment management firm in New York City, is the representative, bond documents showed. Bondholders are informed that the bonds are not general obligations of the Developmental Authority of DeKalb County but are special limited obligations, documents show.

Read More


  • A co-founder of the Shepherd Center died “peacefully” Monday morning, the hospital confirmed. James Harold Shepherd Sr., 90, was a fourth-generation Atlantan who helped found the private nonprofit hospital that specializes in spinal cord injury treatment and research, hospital spokeswoman Jane Sanders said in a news release. Shepherd, who had five siblings, started Shepherd Construction Company with his brothers, and his family oversaw the construction of hundreds of miles of interstate highways in Georgia and several surrounding states in addition to thousands of miles of city and county streets since 1949, the release said. In 1973, Shepherd sustained a spinal cord injury in a bodysurfing accident, which helped motivate him to found the Shepherd Center along with his wife, Alana, their son, James, and Dr. David F. Apple Jr., the release said. The center opened in 1975.  “He wanted to be here, talk to people, to be around the hospital and watch as it grew,” said Julie Shepherd, his granddaughter, who is a case manager at Shepherd Center. “He often talked about how proud he was of Shepherd Center. His construction career had been rewarding in one way, but he was even prouder of what they’d done here (at the hospital) and the lives they’d changed.” The Georgia General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution to designate a section of Peachtree Road in Buckhead to be renamed J. Harold Shepherd Parkway. A memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at Peachtree Presbyterian Church at 3434 Roswell Road. 
  • President Donald Trump's intensifying legal troubles are unnerving some of his fellow Republicans. Despite his brash stance, they believe the turmoil has left him increasingly vulnerable as he gears up for what is sure to be a nasty fight for re-election. Trump, ever confident of his ability to bend story lines to his will, mocks the investigations into his conduct as candidate and president as a 'witch hunt' and insists he will survive the threats. But a shift began to unfold over the weekend after prosecutors in New York for the first time linked Trump to a federal crime of illegal hush payments. That left some of his associates fearful that his customary bravado is unwarranted. For some Republicans, the implication that the president may have directed a campaign finance violation, which would be a felony, could foreshadow a true turning point in the Republican relationship with him when special counsel Robert Mueller releases his report on the Russia investigation. 'I'm sure there's going to be a lot more that's going to come out from the Southern District (of New York) and from, at some point, from the Mueller investigation as well,' Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the chamber's incoming No. 2 Republican, said Monday. 'What they're implying there, obviously, is something I assume at some point the president will have an opportunity to respond to.' Thune continued: 'Campaign finance violations are something that ... they are serious matters, but obviously it depends a little bit on how it gets treated.' As the legal drama plays out, political challenges that could threaten Trump's re-election are piling up. Republicans are still coming to terms with their drubbing in last month's House elections and looking for someone to blame. The departure of John Kelly as White House chief of staff has set off a disorganized search for a replacement who could stay in the job through the 2020 campaign. After Trump's top choice, the vice president's chief of staff Nick Ayers, passed on the job, few of the remaining candidates have political experience. Also, Democrats will soon take control of the House of Representatives, wielding subpoena power and potentially exploring impeachment proceedings. Meanwhile, financial markets have been jittery, in part because of Trump's trade wars and concerns that higher borrowing costs could ultimately trigger a recession. Facing pressure from Mueller and an impending onslaught of Democratic investigations, Trump could hew even further to the right, catering exclusively to the base of voters he is concerned about losing, according to a Republican close to the White House who has consulted on the early re-election efforts. That instinct would echo the president's double-down, scorched-earth response to the crises that hit his 2016 campaign, including the Access Hollywood tape about forcing himself on women, and could make it harder to woo the independent voters or disaffected Democrats he may well need. Could Trump face a primary election challenge from within his own party? He doesn't seem concerned. The president is eager to unleash his re-election machinery and begin to collect pledges of loyalty from across the GOP to quell any hint of an insurrection, according to a campaign official and a Republican familiar with the inner workings of the campaign but not authorized to speak publicly. The Trump team has discussed the possibility of a challenge from someone such as outgoing Ohio Gov. John Kasich or Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake. A week after the midterm elections, Kasich traveled to New Hampshire for a public speech and private meetings with prominent Republicans. Flake, who has tangled repeatedly with Trump, isn't making any personal commitment, but his feelings about a challenger are clear. 'Somebody needs to run' against Trump, he said Monday. 'I hope somebody does.' While some Democrats eying the White House are expected to announce campaigns in the first few weeks of 2019, a Republican challenger could move more slowly, according to two GOP operatives who have been involved in hypothetical discussions about taking on Trump. Waiting until early spring, for example, could give Republicans time to assess whether Trump will be weakened by Mueller's investigation or a downturn in the economy. One leading House Republican said the situation surrounding Trump remains volatile and has urged colleagues to wait for the Mueller report, which some believe could emerge early next year. That Republican, who demanded anonymity to assess the situation candidly, has urged fellow GOP lawmakers to not defend the indefensible but to also not believe every charge. The lawmaker expressed hope that the special counsel's findings come out sooner rather than later so there will be more time before the 2020 elections. For all the private and not-so-private party worries, many close to Trump predict he not only will survive the Russia investigation but will be re-elected in two years. They point to his remarkable ability to shake off scandal, the sway he continues to hold over his base of GOP voters, the fear his Twitter account has instilled among many Republican elected officials and what they believe is the lack of top-shelf talent among Democrats who could face him in 2020. Echoing the president, they contend the special counsel has come up empty-handed in his efforts to prove Russian collusion and is ready to settle for a campaign finance charge they believe is minor and will be ignored or not understood by most voters. The president has said the lesson of the 2018 midterms is that Republican candidates abandon him at their own peril. And the Republicans who remain in Congress after that election aren't likely to back away from him. 'Remember that the Republicans who are left have won in fairly solid Republican, Trump districts,' said moderate Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, who is retiring. 'So he is very popular with the base. I would not think that they would want to distance themselves or have any fear of associating with him.' ___ Associated Press writers Julie Pace and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report. ___ Follow Lemire on Twitter at and Fram at
  • Officials from Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana are still figuring out how much damage an agitated naked man caused Sunday to its Dayton residential re-entry facility. >> Read more trending news   The naked man, who police haven’t identified, spent more than four hours on the roof of the organization’s Gettysburg Avenue facility after he disrobed and burned his clothing, officials said. The man, who was a resident at the center, also stabbed himself several times with a sharp object and wrote “Pig for Life” in his own blood on a wall, witnesses and police said. The man is expected to face criminal charges, possibly including felony vandalism after he damaged multiple cameras, windows and other equipment, police said. “This certainly was an unusual and very out-of-the-ordinary Sunday afternoon for us,” said Nicole Knowlton, vice president of communications for Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana. At about 11:30 a.m. Sunday, staff at the Volunteers of America called police after a resident climbed a chain-link fence and managed to get onto the roof of the facility, located at 1931 S. Gettysburg Ave. The facility provides programming and treatment to help ex-offenders integrate back into the community, Knowlton said. The organization has four half-way houses in the state, including the Gettysburg facility, which can hold about 120 people. >> Related: Naked man on top of Dayton building causes disturbance for more than 4 hours The man shed and then burned his clothing, police said. He jumped from rooftop to rooftop while naked. He stabbed himself with a sharp object and smeared blood on the top of the one-story building, officials said. Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana locked down the facility and restricted where clients could go for their safety, Knowlton said. The man broke two security cameras, six windows, some wiring and the fans of the heating and cooling units, Knowlton said. Officers lined up mattresses on the sidewalk below the roof to try to cushion a potential fall. Authorities used a ladder truck to eventually retrieve the man. Knowlton said she believes he remains in the hospital.
  • A polygamous group based on the Utah-Arizona border is letting go of the sprawling building where its members worshipped, in the latest sign that the sect run by imprisoned leader Warren Jeffs is crumbling and losing control of the community it ruled for a century. The group known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS, now has nowhere to gather for worship services after the nearly 53,000 square-foot (4,900 square-meter) building was taken over last week as part of government-ordered evictions that have taken away about 200 homes and buildings from members who refuse to pay property taxes and $100-a-month occupancy fees. The meetinghouse with capacity for several thousand people is valued at $2.8 million and sits on about 7 acres (2.8 hectares) in the remote red rock community, on the Arizona side of the border. The building has a stage, a church-like setup for services and classrooms for religious education but has not been used for at least six months, Jeff Barlow said Monday. He is the executive director of a government-appointed organization that oversees a former church trust that has properties in the sister cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona. The FLDS doesn't have a spokesperson to comment about the development. The sect is experiencing a major leadership void with Warren Jeffs serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting underage girls he considered brides and his brother Lyle Jeffs serving nearly a five-year sentence for his role in carrying out an elaborate food stamp fraud scheme and for escaping home confinement while awaiting trial. Members have said they have been worshipping at home on their own. The lack of local leaders meant nobody stepped up to take responsibility for the building when Barlow's organization warned an eviction was imminent, said Christine Katas, who lives in the community and serves as an intermediary between Barlow's organization and the FLDS. Rank-and-file members don't believe they have the authority to do so, she said. 'It's very sad for the FLDS. I've seen people cry over it,' Katas said. 'Both sides are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Everybody wishes there was a different outcome.' The evictions have led many FLDS members to take refuge in trailers around town or move away, while former members have purchased the homes and buildings and moved back. Group members don't believe they should have to pay for what belonged to a communal church trust that the state of Utah took over more than a decade ago amid mismanagement. The evictions are part of the shifting demographics in the sister cities of about 7,700 people. Non-sect members last year won control of the mayor's office and town council in Hildale, Utah and nearly did the same in municipal elections in Colorado City. The town government and police are being watched closely by court-appointed monitors after a jury found past town and police leaders guilty of civil rights violations. Sprawling homes that used to belong to Warren Jeffs have been converted into beds and breakfast and sober living centers. Members of the group still consider their leader and prophet to be Warren Jeffs, even though he has been in jail in Utah or Texas continually since 2006. Polygamy is a legacy of the early teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the mainstream church abandoned the practice in 1890 and now strictly prohibits it. The Salt Lake Tribune first reported the eviction of the meetinghouse. Barlow said the board of the organization he runs, called the United Effort Plan (UEP) Trust, will meet on Jan. 5 in a public meeting to discuss what to do with the building, constructed in 1986, Barlow said. One possibility is converting it to a civic center, though that would likely require seeking grant funds, he said. The UEP board will make the final decision.
  • The 2018 college football bowl season kicks off with the fourth annual Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl. The game will feature champions from the Mid-Eastern Athletic and Southwestern Athletic conferences. In a rematch of the first Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, the North Carolina A&T Aggies will go head-to-head with the Alcorn State Braves.  Starting at 11 a.m., Channel 2 WSB-TV presents a live half-hour program, “The Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl Countdown.”  Channel 2 anchors Fred Blankenship and Carol Sbarge host the pregame show for this event. Channel 2 Sports Director Zach Klein will break down the strategies of both teams, the players, coaches and each team’s strengths and weaknesses.  Following the countdown will be a special edition of Channel 2 Action News at 11:30 a.m. with weather, game day traffic and news of the day. At noon, the battle for the championship begins. In addition to the game, organizers will host the first annual “A Celebration of Service.” The service project will bring together “The Divine 9” Greek letter organizations to collect food donations that benefit Hosea Helps. Other attractions include a special fan experience and the ultimate HBCU Greek homecoming tailgate. MATCHUP Alcorn State (9-3, 6-1 Southwestern Athletic Conference) vs. North Carolina A&T (9-2, 6-1 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference). TIME/LOCATION Saturday at noon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Pregame coverage starts at 11 a.m., followed by the game at noon. TOP PLAYERS Alcorn State QB Noah Johnson has thrown for 2,079 yards and 15 touchdowns while also running for 960 yards and nine touchdowns. North Carolina A&T is led by veteran QB Lamar Raynard and a running game that's averaging close to 200 yards on the ground per game. NOTABLE The Braves are back in the Celebration Bowl for the first time since the inaugural game in 2015. Alcorn State is led by coach Fred McNair, the older brother of the late Steve McNair, who was a star quarterback for Alcorn State and in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans. The Aggies are back in the Celebration Bowl for the third time in four seasons. North Carolina A&T beat Grambling 21-14 last year to give the MEAC a 2-1 edge in the game over the SWAC. LAST TIME North Carolina A&T 41, Alcorn State 34 on Dec. 19, 2015. BOWL HISTORY The Braves are in the Celebration Bowl for the second time. The Aggies are in the Celebration Bowl for the third time.