New Georgia Aviation Museum to include a Charter School

A charter school geared toward middle school students interested in science, math, technology and engineering is set to be built alongside a new aviation museum in Marietta.

A group that comprises community, business, political and education leaders plans to build the Aviation Museum at Marietta and its companion charter school on 15.5 acres of Air Force property organizers have subleased from Cobb County. The site is near Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Co. and Dobbins Air Reserve Base on South Cobb Drive and Atlanta Road.

A school attached to a museum is an idea that has "caught fire," said museum board member Harold Barnett, former superintendent of Marietta City Schools.

He said organizers are preparing to go before the Cobb County school board in six to nine months to seek a charter to open the school, which would serve 350 Cobb County students. Fund-raising has begun for the school and the museum, which already has a staff of four that is operating out of temporary quarters on Roswell Road in Marietta. It will take about $14.5 million to build the museum. The school will cost another $8 million, he said.

Charter schools operate outside many state and local rules in order to be innovative. Parents and local educators make decisions about spending, curriculum, hiring and other issues. Georgia has 58 charter schools, serving less than 2 percent of the state's 1.5 million students.

Organizers say they especially hope to attract girls and minorities, two groups that have been largely overlooked in the engineering, science and aviation fields.

"We lose of lot of interest among them in the middle grades," Barnett said.

Students would be able to make good use of the museum's proposed interactive, problem-solving exhibits related to flight, Barnett said.

The school and museum are both targeted to open in 2009. The museum would display planes built in Marietta --- from the B-29 bomber in 1943 to the massive C-130 transport and sleek F/A-22 Raptor --- and would take a look at the impact airplane production has had on Cobb County.

Organizers envision visitors enjoying hands-on exhibits that would challenge them to think critically and problem solve. Exhibits would deal with how flight works, for instance, said the museum's education director Frank Butler, former vice chancellor of academic affairs for the state Board of Regents. The exhibits are still evolving as organizers and supporters brainstorm concepts.

Only a handful of museums across the country operate charter schools, said John Ayers, vice president for communications for the Chicago-based National Association of Charter School Authorizers, which oversees the nation's 4,000 charter schools. Ayers cites the Henry Ford Academy charter school on the campus of the Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich., as an example of a museum-charter school partnership that is a model for education reform, he said.

Also well known is the Museum School, a charter operated by the Children's Museum in San Diego, and the Genesee Community Charter School in Rochester, N.Y., which is on the campus of the Rochester Museum and Science Center --- where students take advantage of the museum's exhibits and collections, its planetarium and nature center.

"I've been surprised that more museums aren't stepping into the charter school realm," Ayers said. "Museums do a lot of education. It's a great fit."

Aviation Museum leaders have talked with private charter school operator Imagine Schools Inc. about running the new aviation charter school.

Imagine operates a charter school in Marietta and another in Kennesaw and plans to open two more --- one in Smyrna and another in Mableton --- in the fall. But museum officials say they are leaning toward operating the charter school themselves under the oversight of the county school board.

The charter school's board of directors would be drawn from members of the museum board and from parents who would hire the principal and assistant principal. Cobb school board member Betty Gray said she is enthused about a museum-sponsored aviation charter school. "It would be an ideal situation, especially to give girls and minorities more exposure to aviation and engineering."

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