Column: East Lake’s Drew Charter education dream becoming reality

By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, January 18, 2013

The East Lake community is close to realizing its dream of offering top-quality education from cradle to college.

On Jan. 15, Gov. Nathan Deal joined other dignitaries to break ground on the new Drew Charter School Senior Academy at the Charlie Yates Campus in East Lake. The academy will permit Drew to teach students through high school. Currently, the Drew Charter School serves nearly 1,000 students from pre-K through 8th grade.

The new 200,000-square-foot facility will not only have the Senior Academy, but it will also house the Junior Academy serving the 6th to 8th grades. Eventually that campus is expected to have 1,000 students, essentially allowing the Drew Charter School to double in size.

The first Senior Academy freshman class will begin in the fall with about 100 students in a temporary facility, meaning the first high school graduating class will be in 2017. A new high school grade will be added each year, and the new Senior Academy facility is scheduled to open in August 2017.

The new building project will cost $73 million. Retired Southern Co. CEO David Ratcliffe, who is chairing the fundraising effort, said the effort already has received commitments of more than $60 million.

Ratcliffe said the project has received financial backing from local and national foundations, and he added that Deal and the state of Georgia have committed to support the project.

Top donors so far include the CF Foundation, the Robertson Foundation, the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Marcus Foundation, and Georgia Power Co./Southern Co.

During the event, the leaders of Drew Charter School reasserted their goal of having 100 percent of their students graduate from high school.

Our next generation

The champion of the East Lake community transformation has been developer Tom Cousins. During the groundbreaking ceremony, Cousins directed his impassioned remarks to Drew Charter School’s 8th graders, who will be the first occupants of the new school.

Because they weren’t yet born, they did not know how dangerous and depressed the East Lake Meadows community used to be.

“It was a community without hope,” Cousins said. “It was a community that had simply been abandoned.”

Young people did not graduate from high school, and many of them ended up in jail.

“Those children of East Lake Meadows individually had as much potential as all of you sitting here today,” Cousins said. “They had the potential, but they didn’t have the opportunity. They had no hope for the future.”

Cousins then described the multi-pronged partnership between the East Lake Foundation, the Atlanta Housing Authority and Atlanta Public Schools as well as companies and foundations that transformed the community.

“You are our next generation,” Cousins told the students. “You are well on your way to great futures and opportunities. That’s why we are here today. We need you to succeed. We need you to be our future leaders to help this country live up to its potential.”

JA Discovery Center

More and more local companies are signing up as participants in Junior Achievement’s Chick-fil-A Foundation Discovery Center at the Georgia World Congress Center.

The Center — which will provide hands-on financial and career literacy for middle school students in Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb — is scheduled to open in August. It is expected that 30,000 students will participate in the Center’s programs each year.

The Center will include the JA Finance Park, sponsored by SunTrust Banks, where middle school students will be given a personal profile with a job and a budget, and they will have to live within that budget throughout an all-day experience.

The Center also will include JA BizTown, where students will be given different roles in a city — from mayor to CEO to workers — and learn how to interact economically with others during that all-day experience.

The official “wall tearing down” ceremony (the indoor alternative to a groundbreaking) occurred Jan. 9 when executives tried to tear down a wall.

Among the new sponsors are Delta Air Lines, which will be the presenting sponsor of the Career Exploration Center; the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta; Georgia-Pacific; Hire Dynamics; Turner Broadcasting System; United Way of Greater Atlanta; and Wells Fargo.

They join an impressive group of other companies that have already signed up to be part of the Center: Chick-fil-A and SunTrust (as previously mentioned); as well as Assurant; Bank of America; Georgia Power; Newell Rubbermaid; PGi; and UPS.

The total project cost is $9.1 million, and Chick-fil-A has contributed $5.1 million. The other major donor is SunTrust, which has committed $1.4 million.

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