It happened in a struggling neighborhood on the east side of Atlanta, and local private business owner Greg Thompson is confident it can happen here in south Sumter.
In the late 1990s, a few philanthropists started the work of transforming one of …
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In the late 1990s, a few philanthropists started the work of transforming one of Atlanta's most troubled neighborhoods, the East Lake community, and creating a place where people of all ages and incomes now choose to live.
It started with a complete renovation of a dilapidated golf course - East Lake Golf Club - and through the support of a foundation, a public charter school with a high education platform was built next to it. Now, 20 years later, it's a model of urban renewal.
After acquiring the former Sunset Country Club last year with his brother, Thompson is transforming it into an elite golf course under a new name, Quixote Club. He's also founding board chairman of Sumter STEAM Charter School, which this week acquired a former school property 2.8 miles away from the course in south Sumter.
"The golf course was in complete disrepair," Thompson said. "The facts are eerily similar."
Drew Charter School opened in 2000 as Atlanta's first public charter school in the high-poverty East Lake community.
Today, it's one of the highest-performing schools in Atlanta with graduates becoming success stories in all walks of life, Thompson said.
The success of the East Lake initiative has served as a national model of holistic community revitalization for 27 other sites across the country, with the assistance of a community network organization, named Purpose Built Communities.
Sumter is now looking to copy the East Lake model and build its own renaissance.
"We wanted to propel the education renaissance and mimic the model that East Lake Foundation and Drew Charter School started some 20 years ago," Thompson said. "We said, 'There's a blueprint for Sumter, South Carolina, in Atlanta, Georgia.'"
Since deciding to pursue a public charter school in the spring of 2019, Thompson hired a chief of staff for the school in experienced Sumter County public educator Trevor Ivey. The charter's 11-member founding board has also hired a founding executive director, Khalil Graham, who begins work next week.
Thompson, Ivey and other board members have visited East Lake and Drew Charter in Atlanta twice, and Purpose Built Communities has visited Sumter once, they said. Though not in a formal partnership agreement, Ivey describes them as "informal thought partners."
GOLF COURSE AS PHILANTHROPIC ARM
Quixote Club sits on the Census track boundary with south Sumter to give it proximity to the area.
Golfers are generally philanthropic-minded and goal oriented, Thompson said, and the club will be a continual funding source for the charter school.
Currently, one-third of the new club members’ initiation fees go to Sumter STEAM Charter.
A lead effort and goal for Quixote Club will always be to support ongoing, high-quality, free public education in Sumter and surrounding communities, Thompson added.
Following renovations, the course is expected to reopen during the second week of November, weather permitting, he said.
THREE-PRONGED AND ‘HOLISTIC APPROACH’
According to models, it takes a three-pronged approach to achieve community revitalization. Those components are education, neighborhood revitalization and housing development. It takes all three and cannot be achieved with just one component.
Based on other sites that have used the East Lake model, Thompson and Ivey foresee the area neighborhood adopting the charter school after it starts to have success based on high standards.
“The school’s location in south Sumter is intentional,” Ivey said. “The location will drive recruitment of our students, the families we serve and teachers and staff.”
Thompson and Ivey like to use the phrase “holistic approach” toward the revitalization.
“You can’t just isolate revitalizing a neighborhood to one thing,” Ivey said. “You can’t just say, ‘We are going to clean up crime’ or ‘We’re going to pick up trash off the street and that’s going to make this neighborhood better.’ Instead, you must have a high-quality school, you have to have revitalization of the neighborhood, and some sort of revenue has to be generated.”
Both said they think the new charter school has the potential to serve as a key lever for holistic neighborhood revitalization and build a strong, economically diverse community in South Sumter.
Thompson added he thinks the new charter can be a “drawing card” for Sumter for incoming residents who want to be a part of the school, as opposed to choosing to live in neighboring counties.
At build-out, the pre-K-12 school will serve 976 students across four academies.
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