Miles Ahead Charter School focuses on teaching the ‘whole child’ with a modern approach

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POWDER SPRINGS, Ga. — On the first day of school last August, Kolt Bloxson cried. After four years of raising money, building an executive board, hiring teachers, creating a cutting-edge curriculum and handling an abundance of other responsibilities, she opened the doors to the Miles Ahead Charter School just outside Atlanta. 

As the students, who are referred to as “scholars,” milled about the refurbished halls of a former church auxiliary building, the manifestation of Bloxson’s dream became a living, breathing thing. The magnitude of it all moved her. 

“It was like when your child is born,” Bloxson, a Boston native, whose son’s name is — you guessed it — Miles.

But the tears did not last. “There was breakfast to be served. And lunch,” she said. “The reality of what was taking place took over.”

Bloxson, 39, was an Atlanta Public Schools educator for 18 years, but founding a school was not part of her career goals. Her zeal for children in general, and educating them in particular, however, were the paramount reasons she embarked on a new journey. 

In 2019, it appeared to Bloxson that opportunities for quality education for Black students in underserved communities near her home were dwindling. Two elementary schools had merged and, at the time, the specter of other closures loomed. Bloxson decided to take on full bore the laborious challenge of creating Miles Ahead.

Poster entitled "High Five Habits" that include Kindness, Integrity, Determination, Compassion, and Wonder
Students memorize these Miles Ahead principles and are taught to live by them.Courtesy Curtis Bunn

“There was a growing gap that I wanted to fill,” she said.

And so, with that mission as her inspiration, Bloxson found a location for the school, carefully assembled a board, hand-picked teachers, and learned state regulations for opening and operating a school and countless other undertakings.

“Whew. It was by no means easy,” she said. “But as we continued to move ahead, it became more feasible.”

Covid delayed the opening by a year, but with the extra time, Bloxson and her board fine-tuned the vision with stakeholders.

Miles Ahead opened on Aug. 2, 2023, as a tuition-free charter school for kindergarten through eighth grade with 14 teachers, eight staff members, 195 students and an ever-growing wait list. 

“The intentionality of what has happened here is just great,” said Angel Turner, a board member who has a daughter at the school. “Before the doors opened, there were several fun events that allowed the students to meet, the parents and teachers to meet. It created anticipation for the kids about the school, and we basically established a community so that the parents could see what the school could be.”

Bloxson’s vision is being carried out in a one-story building off a main road. The school will expand into a second building on the old church grounds next semester. In her mind, she saw a place where students would be uplifted daily, where they would learn and live by the affirmations she and the board developed in their first meeting called High Five Habits.

Kolt Bloxson at the front entrance of her charter school, which has a wait list for students.
Kolt Bloxson at the front entrance of her charter school, which has a wait list for students.Courtesy Curtis Bunn

Stop a random student in the hallway and he or she can recite them with ease: Kindness, Integrity, Determination, Compassion and Wonder.

This is part of the schools’ commitment to teaching the “whole student,” meaning Miles Ahead is far more than about educating students, who, as young as first and second grade, are taking STEAM courses (science, technology, engineering, the arts and math), like coding, during “Instructional Day,” part of the school’s “21st century teaching,” Bloxson calls it. These courses are taught by specialists, giving teachers a day to step away from the classroom. “You have to think in nontraditional structures to make this work,” she said, referring to the school’s concepts.

 It would take effective teachers who, at their very core, have “a love and advocacy for kids. Not students, but kids — you put them at the center of your work,” Bloxson said. “You make a connection with their homes and you have interests in their needs as people.”

 This forward-thinking approach attracted veteran third grade teacher Martina Franklin, who said she sometimes felt confined by school board rules and limitss on how to conduct her class.

“We are given a lot of resources, but we’re also given autonomy to teach how we see fit for our scholars versus teaching from a script,” Franklin said. “This has been probably my most successful year because I’m able to alter my plans or strategies based on my scholars’ needs without feeling like admin is coming down my back about it. Here, Kolt truly cares for the students’ needs.” 

Franklin said accepting a job at Miles Ahead was easy after Bloxson’s mission was expressed.

Photo of classroom
Almost every aspect of life at Miles Ahead Charter School is unique, as this classroom shows.Courtesy Curtis Bunn

“In other school districts, they only care about academics,” Franklin said. “But the scholars are with us more than they are with their parents, so we’re not just teaching. We’re helping mold them into responsible people, teaching them social-emotional learning, along with academics, as well as giving them time to explore what they’re learning. That’s what really attracted me.”

Volunteer and board member Ashley Lee said that if she had a child, she would send him to Miles Ahead. 

“As a former educator, this is a place I’d love to work because at other places as a teacher you’d often feel like you were on an island,” she added. “Here, there are so many great teachers who have the support and the ability to have a real impact on the students because they have the freedom to do so.” 

Students come from multiple counties, some traveling more than an hour each way via the school’s bus, “The Scholar Ship.” This was important to Bloxson, who believes school choices should not be limited to where a family lives.

“Certain things in public education are a bit antiquated, one of them being attendance boundaries,” she said. “People move all the time for various reasons. And so, having a school that allows a child consistent support and opportunities for their entire experience, regardless of where they move to, I think is really important to our parents. And that’s one of the reasons why we launched.”

Bloxson, who led the efforts to raise about $1.2 million in grants, donations and sponsorships, is quick to point out that the execution of her vision was not done by her alone. Even before finding a location, she had to build an advisory board to offer guidance she could trust  along the way. 

She approached Ed Miller four years ago about joining the board. He was retired from the pharmaceutical industry, so was well versed in finances, having written the book, “Making Sense of Your Money.” She would need his business acumen around budgeting. Miller was touched by Bloxson’s passion and vision. 

“I heard her out, and Miles Ahead was something I could sink my teeth into,” he said. “Initially, though, I thought it was a lot to undertake. But as we continued to dream about this, I saw her determination. She chose to do this, which is huge.” 

Henry Lust, head of the Miles Ahead board, met Bloxson at a business mixer. She “was not just passionate, but relentless about what she was creating,” which inspired him to encourage his granddaughter to enroll her daughter at Miles Ahead. 

Bloxson, Lust joked, “has to be a little bit crazy. This board is responsible for governance of this organization and the interaction between the charter commission and the charter association and the state and all the things that go into making this school a reality. And she has to make sure that it all runs smoothly. That’s a lot. But she does it with a smile on her face.”

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