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Charter school in Clearwater to teach Hebrew; a virtual school is denied

The charter school movement continues to grow in Pinellas County with School Board members set to approve the district's 20th charter school during Tuesday's regular meeting.

Ben Gamla Charter School at 1685 S Belcher Road in Clearwater plans to offer a "bilingual, biliteral and bicultural curriculum" through studying Hebrew as a second language.

District administrators have recommended the board approve a five-year charter for the school, which eventually expects to have up to 900 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

Last month, the School Board signed off on a five-year contract with Windsor Preparatory Academy.

The school is managed by Newpoint Education Partners, which has charter high schools in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

Windsor will open in August at 5175 45th St. N in St. Petersburg with an estimated 360 students in kindergarten through third grade, adding 220 students through the fifth grade in the next four years.

Dot Clark, who oversees charter schools for the district, anticipates at least 21 charter schools in Pinellas next school year.

"It's hard to keep up," she said.

Charter schools are public schools that operate like private schools, except they don't charge tuition.

Instead, charter schools receive a mix of private funding and public tax dollars. They are independent of school districts and have their own school boards, manage their own finances, and create their own curriculum and rules.

Parents typically are required to volunteer at the schools for a set number of hours each year. Some schools ask families to contribute to annual building funds.

Florida ranks third in the nation for charter schools, with more than 459, according to the state Department of Education.

Pinellas County School Board members also approved moving the year-old Newpoint High Charter School in Clearwater to a newly renovated building with room to grow at 21800 U.S. 19.

The school opened last August with 60 students in grades 9-10 with plans to add 11th grade and between 150 to 200 students in the fall, administrative assistant Susan Petrilyak said.

Newpoint bills itself as a school for the 21st century, where students rely on computers instead of textbooks and participate in a professional work-study internship program that gives them real-world experience.

At the same meeting, the board followed its staff recommendation and denied a charter contract to Florida Virtual Academy.

Administrators were concerned about the school's curriculum plan, student assessment and evaluation procedures, budget and financial management, and oversight, according to a recent evaluation.

The district already has a virtual-education program in which fewer than 300 students have shown an interest in the past two years, staffers said.

They called Florida Virtual Academy's projections to open with 520 students in the fall and to grow to 1,068 by 2017-18 "unrealistic," citing declining student population countywide.

Another charter school, Plato Academy at 2795 Keystone Road in Tarpon Springs, won board approval in March. Doors open in August with plans for up to 546 students in the next five years.

The K-8 school will promote the Socratic principle of thinking and Aristotle's model of persuasion — ethos, pathos and logos. It also will offer Greek instruction.

The Pinellas County School Board will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the administration building, 301 Fourth St. SW, Largo. For more information go to

Charter school in Clearwater to teach Hebrew; a virtual school is denied 05/05/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 5, 2012 4:32am]
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