The Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School (ANCS) is a K-8 charter school with two campuses formed by the merger of two successful charter schools that have been operating in the Grant Park/Ormewood Park neighborhood during the past decade. Neighborhood Charter School (NCS) opened in 2001 serving kindergarten through fifth grade students. Atlanta Charter Middle School (ACMS) opened in 2005 serving sixth through eighth grade students. Both schools stood as centers of community education excellence in southeast Atlanta, gaining recognition from the Georgia Department of Education and the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement for outstanding student performance on state assessments. The merger of these two schools establishes a framework for sharing resources between the former ACMS and NCS, while jointly pursuing a common goal of continuing to providing a innovative small school alternative choice within the Atlanta Public Schools that actively involves families from the diverse neighborhoods of southeast Atlanta.
ANCS is a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES), a national network of schools focused on creating schools that are intellectually challenging, personalized, and democratic. CES schools are brought together by a shared commitment to 10 Common Principles that guide teaching, learning, and decision-making at each school. Numerous studies have shown that students in CES schools demonstrate a high level of progress academically and personally.
ANCS is racially and economically diverse, serving a student population that is representative of the city of Atlanta. Families from around the community were actively involved in planning for the merger of the precursor schools and have been involved in the governance of the school from the start.
Merging into a single school with two campuses beginning with the 2011-12 school year has provided ANCS students with the educational benefits of a K-8 school. Students and teachers can build more lasting relationships. Teachers from the elementary and middle grades can work more closely to articulate a rich and engaging educational program across the grade levels that reflect the CES Common Principles since teachers will know from where students are coming and to where they are going.In addition to the educational benefits, parent involvement increases as families make an investment of time and energy into a school for nine years rather than for three years (at a middle school) or six years (at an elementary school). Governance is also strengthened since ANCS is able to cultivate board and parent leadership over a longer period of time. Finally, the management of the school and its financial position is more robust by sharing resources smartly and effectively.
ANCS is open by lottery admissions to students in kindergarten through eighth grade zoned for the Atlanta Public Schools.
Evolution of the Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School
Neighborhood Charter School (2002-2011)
It all started with an acorn — a dream to create a new kind of public school for our children. One that would improve academic achievement, foster extraordinary parental involvement, and strengthen the community in some of Atlanta’s most resurgent neighborhoods. That dream came true with the opening of the Neighborhood Charter School (NCS) in August of 2002.
NCS began as a result of the efforts of an intensely motivated group of parents who aspired to send their children to an urban public school with a diverse student population, high academic achievement, and extraordinary levels of family and community involvement. This small group of parents soon motivated scores of families—with more than 300 elementary school-aged children among them—to join in an effort to make this vision a reality.
A charter school, which was a new public school reform concept in Georgia at the time, was one of several educational options the community considered. The leaders of this effort set out to learn all they could about charter schools and to actively engage the community in the process. Volunteers went door-to-door to hundreds of homes delivering materials and discussing school options in both Spanish and English. Dozens of community meetings were held throughout the community. After three years of research, organizing the community, and dialogue with Atlanta educators, it was determined that a charter school held the greatest promise to achieve the community’s vision of an extraordinary neighborhood school. A five hundred page charter petition, prepared by scores of volunteers, was formally voted on and passed by parents at a public meeting in September 2000.
The charter petition was formally endorsed by the neighborhood associations representing Grant Park and Ormewood Park, as well as the relevant Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU-W). The charter received the strong personal support of the Atlanta City Council and Atlanta Board of Education members representing the area and the Georgia Department of Education. Editors of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution also strongly endorsed the Neighborhood Charter School. In the Spring of 2001, the NCS petition was unanimously approved by both the Atlanta Board of Education and the Georgia State Board of Education, which termed it a model for all other charter petitions.
After approval of the charter, the work to make the vision a reality began. The school moved into the historic Slaton Elementary School on Grant Street in Grant Park, an unused Atlanta Public School building. Dozens of community volunteers painstakingly restored the facility. Governor Roy Barnes spoke at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the school on August 10th, 2002, and on August 12th, NCS opened its doors to 105 children.
On February 8th, 2003, the Slaton Elementary School building was completely destroyed by fire. As proof of the strength of the community, not a day of school was missed after the fire. On Monday, February 10th, 2003, NCS reopened its doors in its temporary home at St. Paul United Methodist Church, a community church just a few blocks from the school site. On February 15th, 2005—after holding classes in a modular unit complex for a year and a half—NCS moved back into a beautifully reconstructed Slaton building.
NCS continued to thrive following the fire. The initial five-year charter expired in the summer of 2007. In the renewal process, the school made a unique request in its petition: that NCS be granted not the usual five-year renewal but rather a 10-year renewal. The case was made that based upon the phenomenal past success and necessity for long-range planning, NCS should receive a 10-year charter. After a vote of approval from the Atlanta Board of Education in 2006, the Georgia State Board of Education voted on April 11th, 2007, to approve the unprecedented 10-year renewal.
Atlanta Charter Middle School (2005-2011)
As students from NCS grew closer to their middle school years, many of the same parents and educators who founded NCS began to consider the idea of creating a middle school based upon the same philosophical foundations of NCS. Throughout 2004, a committed group of parents and teachers worked to survey the community, develop a charter petition, and garner support for a “small, focused, diverse middle school that nurtures the whole child through strong parental and community involvement and challenging academics.” The school would serve students throughout the city of Atlanta, with enrollment priority given to students living within southeast Atlanta. On January 10th, 2005 the Atlanta Board of Education formally approved the charter application for the Atlanta Charter Middle School (ACMS), and three months later, on April 14th, 2005, the Georgia State Board of Education did the same.
When ACMS took in its first class of sixth grade students in August 2005, the school shared space in the Slaton building with NCS. Seeking a building of its own, in 2006 ACMS moved into the former Anne E. West Elementary School in Ormewood Park, another unused Atlanta Public School building. At first, the school leased the building from the district. However, in an effort to establish long-range stability, the ACMS board, with the help of several community members, entered into negotiations with the district to purchase the building. In the winter of 2007, ACMS finalized the purchase of the historic building, and, thanks to financing from the Self Help Credit Union, the school became one of the few grassroots startup charter schools in the country to own its own facility.
ACMS students demonstrated their academic achievement over the first five years of the initial charter period. In each year of its existence, the school earned recognition from the Georgia Department of Education as a Title I “Distinguished School” as a school with a high percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced price meals yet having exceeded state academic performance goals. As a result of its record of high levels of student learning and strong organizational and financial management, ACMS received formal approval from the Atlanta Board of Education and the Georgia State Board of Education to renew its charter agreement for another five-year term.
The Merger of NCS and ACMS
For several years, NCS and ACMS were connected in ways both formal and informal. The schools shared resources, participated in joint fundraising events, and, of course, many students who matriculated from NCS moved on to ACMS for middle school. Yet a more lasting connection between the schools had long been considered as a way to strengthen the educational experience for students as well as the governance and management of the schools.
In the fall of 2009, NCS and ACMS engaged an independent consultant to work with the schools’ governing boards on the development of a charter petition that would result in the official merger of these two separate schools into one single school. Several months of planning, writing, and soliciting community input took place, and regular updates on the process were provided on the schools’ websites, in local neighborhood publications, and at public meetings. At their March 2010 meetings, the NCS and ACMS governing boards approved the charter petition for the Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School (ANCS), a K-8 charter school with two campuses that represented the merger of NCS and ACMS. The Atlanta Board of Education then approved the petition, and, finally, on March 8th, 2011, the Georgia State Board of Education gave its approval to the ANCS petition. The charter agreement for ANCS runs from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2016.
During the 2010-11 school year, a merger transition taskforce formed with the involvement of board members and school leadership from both NCS and ACMS. The taskforce took on the ambitious job of identifying critical tasks in the months leading up to the merger and worked with key faculty, staff, and parents to complete them. And now ANCS has become the next chapter in this history of educational innovation in the city of Atlanta.