Endangered Pinellas charter schools consider being taken over by school district
There may be a way out of termination for Windsor Preparatory Academy and East Windsor Middle Academy after all.
Chris Wenzel, the board chair overseeing the two St. Petersburg charter schools, announced at a board meeting Thursday that he was approached by Pinellas County Schools superintendent Mike Grego with a proposal that the district would absorb the two schools effective Aug. 1 and turn the schools into a "project-based learning lab environment" if the schools agreed to terminate their charters.
The schools were served 90-day notice of termination letters by the Pinellas County School Board last month over concerns over the schools' financial viability, lack of curriculum and governance. Many of those problems have been blamed on the schools' previous management company, Newpoint Education Partners, which was recently indicted on charges of grand theft, money laundering and aggravated white collar crime.
Wenzel said Grego offered to grandfather in the students at Windsor Prep and East Windsor and would give preference to the schools' teachers for jobs at the new school, which would be operated like a magnet school. Wenzel said Grego told him he would need to have the notice to terminate the contract by Friday in order to call a special workshop after the School Board's regularly scheduled board meeting on Tuesday.
“It’s a leap of faith is all I can say," Wenzel said. " I truly in my heart believe that Dr. Grego is doing this in the best interest of our children.”
Grego did not return requests for comment.
Some parents at the board meeting, who first fought to rid their schools of Newpoint and have been battling the district to keep their schools open and find suitable schools for their children, reacted with skepticism. They said they were troubled by the short deadline and worried that their school would forfeit its unique culture in the partnership with the district.
“They’re bullying us way too much," said parent Tonya Hanson. "We can’t do this."
Others saw it as a compromise that would draw relief for staff and parents.
“I just want to say I don’t see this as a lose for us. I see this as meeting us in the middle," said Windsor Prep parent Dorothy Dulau. “If all that stays the same, how are we losing? Otherwise if they don’t work with us, we’re going to a public school anyway."
To quell fears about having the offer in writing, Wenzel motioned to draft a letter to Grego that would agree to terminating the schools' charters if certain demands are met, which include keeping the school's board members in an advisory capacity to ease the transition and keeping the name of the school and mascot in addition to prioritizing current students and staff.
Should the district not meet the demands of the school, Wenzel said he would call an emergency board meeting and discuss the schools' options.
As for Newpoint Pinellas Academy, a Clearwater middle school that is under the same board as the Windsor schools but is housed on the same site as Newpoint Pinellas High, which has a separate board and never faced termination, that school has less than 90-days to correct its issues with the district, which are mostly financial.