Saturday, December 16, 2017
Education

Charter school plan holds great promise for south Brooksville

If you've heard Hernando County has a two-tiered public school system — and it does — you've no doubt guessed who's on the second tier:

Kids with parents (or a single parent) who can't be sure their car will make it to distant magnet schools or even moderately distant bus stops, who can't free up evenings to attend open houses required to apply to the choice schools, who don't have the time to help their children with applications.

It's probably no surprise that, judging from the lower rate of eligibility for free and reduced-price meals at magnets and the county's one charter school, parents who can't do these things are disproportionately the ones without a lot of money.

And because the magnets and charter are either in or near Spring Hill, many of these parents and their children live in Brooksville.

Or, as one of the organizers of the proposed Brooksville Engineering, Science and Technology Academy put it, the town is "under-served for school choice."

So, what's the best thing about the plan for this charter middle school, the application for which will come before the School Board next week?

It looks like an attempt to reach kids outside the top tier, to make the best of our public system more accessible rather than more exclusive.

No, its location in south Brooksville can't guarantee that parents there will be organized and ambitious enough to apply. But it will take away a lot of obstacles or, if you prefer, excuses.

The school also can't restrict admission to children from this neighborhood, home to most of the county's black population and its poorest U.S. Census tract — but it can make them feel welcome.

Which brings us to the next good thing about the plan.

Talk to Martha Lawson, who went to the old, all-black Moton School, and you'll find that, like a lot of older African-Americans in Brooksville, she has mixed feelings about school desegregation.

She appreciated the better facilities and opportunities at Hernando High, where she transferred as an 11th-grader in 1966. But she lost a school where she felt like she belonged, and that she felt belonged to her in a way her new school, with its halls full of strangers, never did.

"I will always feel proud of Moton," said Lawson, 62.

The new charter will actually be in the old Moton School, occupying a wing across from the Head Start program that has been there for decades. So it's a way of reviving old Moton and, hopefully, the old Moton pride.

Finally, to see one other very good thing about this plan, look at the percentage of black 10th-grade males who score at least a 3 — the passing grade — on the reading portion of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. The state average over the past decade, before 2011 (the most recent figure available), is very low: 14.2 percent. Hernando's is lower: 11.6 percent.

As the new school's mouthful of a name announces, it will emphasize a challenging curriculum. What it doesn't say is that it will address this shameful situation by requiring, not just offering, after-school math and reading class for children who are having trouble keeping up.

Charter schools carry risk, and we can't know how this one will turn out. But put all these good things together, and this school could be great.

Follow Dan DeWitt at [email protected]

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