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Athenian Academy of Pinellas wins approval to add eighth grade

Athenian Academy of Pinellas in Dunedin nearly lost its right to operate as a charter school in 2005.

Now the academy's enrollment has more than doubled, and it will become a full K-8 school starting in the fall.

An amendment adding eighth grade to the school at 2817 St. Mark Drive was approved unanimously Tuesday night by the Pinellas County School Board.

The school has grown from about 80 students in 2006 to 192 this year. And it has 228 students committed — and a capacity of 240 — for the fall.

The head of the school, Kathy Manrique, said the academy's enrollment has grown 140 percent in less than two years. And she thinks she knows why.

"I think parents are looking for a balance between a small private school and a large public school, and the charter is the perfect balance," she said. "They have a private school without the tuition, and the advantages of a public school curriculum."

She said the academy has long had the goal of becoming a K-8 school but that the significance of the School Board's approval will have an immediate impact on this year's seventh-graders.

"I think it's important to the parents that the children stay in the same school their eighth-grade year," she said.

The school is run by the Leona Group, an educational management company. It features an emphasis on math and two foreign languages: Greek and Spanish.

"I have kindergartners who are fluent in Greek and Spanish," Manrique said.

Steve Swartzel, one of several officials working on the district's charter school oversight team, introduced Manrique at the board meeting and told the board that the academy provided satisfactory answers to all questions in its review.

"They've been through some difficult times," Swartzel said. "I think they've done a fine job."

In February 2000, the School Board originally approved a five-year charter for Athenian Academy.

But in March 2005, the board voted to end its sponsorship of the academy's charter amid financial problems and reports of chronic upheaval at the school.

School leaders appealed and were granted a one-year renewal in June 2005 with the understanding they would work to solve the problems.

The School Board approved a four-year charter renewal in March 2006, extending the charter until June 2010. The charter was amended in June 2007 to add a sixth-grade class and again in May 2008 to add a seventh-grade class.

"One of the reasons I would support this is we would be asking someone to go to a different eighth grade and then to high school," School Board member Carol Cook said. "Seeing as they did get things straightened out, adding a year would be a good thing."

Times staff writers Donna Winchester and Steve Morse contributed to this report.

About the school

Athenian Academy of Pinellas

Where: 2817 St. Mark Drive

Current grades: K-7

Number of students: 192

For information: Visit or call (727) 298-2718

Athenian Academy of Pinellas wins approval to add eighth grade 02/26/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 26, 2009 10:42pm]
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