TAMPA — Almost three years ago, principal Lesley Logan found herself looking to challenge the charter school she helped to start with two other people.
The Literacy Leadership Technology Academy, which opened its doors to students in 2005, was doing great but Logan didn’t want the school to become stagnant or its curriculum irrelevant. A simple Google search of the word "leadership" changed that.
The charter recently was designated a Leader in Me Lighthouse School, which adheres to the philosophy of equipping students with leadership and life skills.
The standards for the designation are set by FranklinCovey, a global company specializing in performance improvement. It’s based on Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, as well as the practices of interpersonal and organizational effectiveness. Most schools typically earn the designation within three to five years of the program’s implementation.
"We’ve always taught leadership," Logan said. "We’ve always had mandatory leadership classes … through the years we’ve kind of honed and changed and done some things differently. I just felt three years ago, we needed something more."
The charter school, located just east of Progress Village, has grown from serving only middle school students to kindergarten through eighth grade. Now with more than 600 students and 60 staff members, the waiting list to get into the school contains more than 450 students. Plans are underway to open a second school, according to Logan.
"It’s kind of a thing of if you build it they will come. And so they did," Logan said.
A teacher herself, the principal co-founded the school after watching her daughters struggle in middle school, where she believed class sizes were too large.
"Through nobody’s fault of their own, our middle schools are very large. So there’s hundreds and hundreds of middle school students that they’re trying to serve and it’s a tough job," Logan said. "It’s not a one-size-fits-all. Some people can find something great in the traditional public schools and others can find something great in the charter world."
Teachers encourage students at the school to take the reigns — everything from creating billboards to organizing assemblies to serving as tour guides — as part of their leadership development. The school operates under the philosophy that students must learn to effectively lead themselves to be able to lead others.
Eighth-grader Sofia Pesquera, 14, transferred to LLT Academy two years ago from a Christian school where she often found herself timid at the thought of sports or academic clubs. Now, Pesquera rattles off a list of extracurricular activities.
"It’s just so much more involving and you get to do it with your friends," she said.
A nonprofit charter school that’s part of the Hillsborough County Public School system, LLT Academy teachers encourage and prepare students to attend public high school. And most students are excited by the idea, as they’re allowed to take college courses alongside their high school work.
Still, some students say they’ll miss the personalized experience they receive at LLT Academy if they choose to continue into the public school system.
"It’s more organized in the structure of it. It’s smaller. You have more friends. You know everybody," said eighth-grader Gabriella Simmons, 13, who already has a list of college courses she plans to enroll in once she attends high school.
The charter school’s curriculum is chosen by what fits the student body, according to Logan. It operates under five programs: exceptional student education, gifted, intensive, general and advanced.
"You can’t just look at a student as a number in a seat that’s going to go through math and then through language arts and then they’re going to take their test and then they’re going to leave you," Logan said. "You have to look at them as a whole person. You have to respect them."
For more information on the charter school, visit literacyacademy.com.
Contact Crystal Owens at [email protected]