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No second chances for Pinellas school that gives second chances



LARGO — Pinellas County School Board members voted 5-2 Tuesday to close Life Skills Center in St. Petersburg, marking the first time the district has discontinued a contract for a charter school.

The decision followed more than an hour of emotional pleas from students, faculty and parents not to shutter the campus, which specializes in giving second chances to struggling students at risk of dropping out.

“I don’t think it’s a fair decision,” said a tearful Melanie Hernandez, 17, who enrolled in that school last year after struggling at F-rated Gibbs High School.

Life Skills failed to meet the state’s requirements for student performance and repeatedly fell short of its own educational goals, according to Pinellas County Superintendent Julie Janssen.

Key to the district’s objections were the fact that for two years, the school did not administer FCAT to 90 percent of its students, as required by law. Only 62 to 69 percent took the required test, among the lowest in the state.

Additionally, Life Skills’ graduation rate averaged 12 percent in four years, compared with 37 percent at a comparable district-run high school for at-risk students.

Board members Linda Lerner and Mary Brown both dissented, arguing the school could use a year probationary renewal.

The school district supports 12 charter schools now, not including Life Skills, which opened in five years ago to target high school students at risk of dropping out.Charter schools are privately run but publicly funded schools that are designed to offer an educational program distinct from anything available in the regular public school district.

Life Skills, which serves about 375 students in a former drug store at 4901 Central Ave., is one of two such schools in Pinellas.

The second, Life Skills of North Pinellas in Clearwater, is not affected by the change.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post contained an inaccurate vote count. It should have been 5-2.

[Last modified: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 10:08am]


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