Charter school in south Brooksville inches closer to reality

BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville is one step closer to getting its first charter school.

A school district review committee has recommended that the Hernando County School Board approve plans for the Brooksville Engineering, Science & Technology Academy.

The School Board plans to discuss the charter application for the middle school at 2 p.m. Tuesday and vote on it at 7 that evening. The charter would be valid for five years.

The board has until Sept. 30 to accept or deny charter applications, per state statute.

The school would take up residence at the old Moton School at 835 School St. in south Brooksville, a complex that once housed the county's African-American students.

As many as 132 middle school students would fill six classrooms. Initially, the school would include only sixth and seventh grades, expanding to eighth grade in its second year.

The projected opening would be fall 2013.

Aimee Whitehead, president of the seven-person board spearheading the effort, has said the charter school would fill a void.

"All of the public school choice options are on the west side of the county," she told the Times. "We just thought it was really important that we do the same for the east side of the county. There's definitely a need. There aren't any out there right now."

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt agreed, saying the charter makes sense and that it would be nice to have such a school on the county's east side.

"I was impressed," Blavatt said of the proposal. "I think it offers an alternative to parents."

Blavatt said he didn't think the school would have much of a financial impact on the district since its capacity would be small.

Whitehead started thinking about the school after Joe Gatti and Nevin Siefert, the administrators at Gulf Coast Academy in Spring Hill, began looking at property in Spring Hill for Gulf Coast's second location.

Gatti and Siefert had begun talking about putting a charter middle school similar to Gulf Coast, which emphasizes science and technology, in Brooksville.

"We became aware that there would be some classrooms available there to serve south Brooksville, which is underserved for school choice," Siefert said.

Whitehead, a part-time online instructor at Gulf Coast, quickly became the driving force behind the project, Siefert said.

She modeled some of the new school's curriculum — and its emphasis on outdoor education, including kayaking and caving trips — after Gulf Coast's.

Siefert said he and Gatti also helped her with the "nuts and bolts" of the detailed application process.

Although the new school would pull students from across the county, Siefert said the hope is that it will largely become a charter for south Brooksville. A survey of neighborhood residents revealed a high level of enthusiasm.

"We got an overwhelming response from the community," Siefert said.

Many residents "had gone to the (old Moton) school and identified with it and thought that a charter school there would be a perfect choice," Siefert said.

The district's charter review committee, made up school representatives in various areas, evaluated the charter application on 20 standards. Only one area did not meet standards and six areas partly met them.

Committee members determined that the target population and student body did not meet their standards, questioning how a racial and ethnic balance would be achieved, how organizers calculated their target population numbers and how they would deal with projections of declining student enrollment across Hernando County.

Meanwhile, the review committee did not recommend approval of the charter application for My Choice Accelerated Academy at Hernando, a proposed high school for at-risk students. The application did not meet three standards and only partly met six others.

The School Board is also scheduled to vote Tuesday on that charter.

Danny Valentine can be reached at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432.

Charter school in south Brooksville inches closer to reality 09/12/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 6:42pm]

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