School Spotlight: Brookhaven Innovation Academy – Georgia Charter Schools Association

After opening its doors in August of 2016, Brookhaven Innovation Academy (BIA) is now its third year of operation. The public charter school is authorized by the State Charter Schools Commission of Georgia and serves students in Kindergarten through the eighth grade.

As part of its mission, the school seeks to provide students with an education that maximizes the realization of their individual talents and prepares them for success in the technology and information-driven 21st-century economy. The school’s research-based and personalized curriculum utilizes project-based learning and integrates computer coding into its core program. The school also uses a school-wide social/emotional curriculum to ensure students have the ability to learn in a safe and caring educational environment.

“Our kids make Brookhaven Innovation Academy unique. We know they’re here because their parents have chosen for them to be here, and they want to be here,” says Julie Tolbert, BIA Head of School. “Our faculty and administrators are very invested in our students and doing what’s best for them. I think we’ve been able to successfully communicate that to parents and the community, and it’s one of the things that makes BIA truly special.”

Julie Tolbert joined BIA as Head of School during the 2018-2019 school year after working for Oconee County Schools for 15 years as a teacher in grades 3-5. She also served in numerous leadership capacities at the school and district levels.

Since taking the helm of BIA, Tolbert says she’s seen a large amount of growth and progress, including the school’s move to a permanent location in the city of Norcross. The school has also worked to improve its instructional model. As a result, Tolbert says the school has seen progress on Georgia’s College and Career Ready Performance Index (CCRPI). In 2018, the school received a 75.3 on the CCPRI. In 2019, the school raised its single score on the CCRPI to 79.6, which surpassed the overall state CCRPI average of 75.9. Tolbert says a huge reason for the climbing CCRPI performance is due to the dedication of Brookhaven Innovation Academy’s faculty and staff as well as ongoing professional development in effective and research-based teaching and learning practices. She says the school’s educators teach the Georgia standards but “do not teach to the test.” She believes the autonomy and flexibility given to BIA teachers allows for innovation and engagement to occur in the classroom.

Tolbert also says BIA teachers and parents are feeling more assured about the school and the upcoming school year due to stability in school leadership and knowing the school is not planning to move to another location.

“There’s been a change in the school culture. People are feeling more settled and more secure than they were before,” says Tolbert. “I think our teacher retention will be higher this year. I also believe we will have extremely high student retention.”

Since Tolbert arrived at Brookhaven Innovation Academy, she has worked to start an early intervention program for students in grades K-5 and another program that provides additional tutoring for Title 1 students. The school also implemented a gifted program for BIA’s third through eighth-grade students and expanded its computer coding for students.

“I think the most rewarding part is knowing that there is a place like Brookhaven Innovation Academy available for students,” says Tolbert. “We’re here strictly because the parents of the 500 students we serve want them here, which shows me that we’re doing something right, we’re doing something good, and we’re doing something that fills a need within the community.”

Tolbert says the school is on a continual path to improvement. She wants enrollment to grow to 540 kids in the fall. In the future, she would also like to expand the school’s gifted program and offer additional electives in the school’s upper grades. Ultimately, Tolbert says Brookhaven Innovation Academy is striving to be the charter school of choice in Georgia. She says the school’s staff, administrators and board members will continue working to make that vision a reality.