Sunday, January 21, 2018
Education

Charter school set to expand

SPRING HILL — All of the elements are starting to fall into place for Gulf Coast Middle School, a replication of the first charter school in Hernando County.

There is one thing missing with this school, though: a long battle over the right to exist.

Call it a perk of being a copycat.

The middle school, founded by the same people who blazed the charter school trail with Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Technology in 2003, is set to open next fall. This time around, it has been a noticeably smoother process.

School officials already have secured a 15-year charter. They have a campus. Their brand-new, steel-frame building is set to be finished well before the first day of school. They have more money. Their curriculum is identical to the other school's and established. And their reputation is solid.

Now they've added two other key components.

Gulf Coast officials recently persuaded longtime Hernando educator David Schoelles to come out of retirement and lead the new middle school. They also received a competitive $350,000 start-up grant that will allow them to buy state-of-the-art technology, instructional materials and new furniture, and that will help cover insurance and accounting costs.

Schoelles worked in the Hernando school district for 30 years as a teacher, principal and administrator. He taught social studies and history at the middle school and high school levels before becoming an assistant principal at Powell Middle School for seven years. He took charge of the adult education center for two year before being named the principal at Fox Chapel Middle School when it opened in 1997. Afterward, he served as a curriculum supervisor with the district and, among other things, was in charge of working with charter schools.

"For me, it's an incredibly exciting opportunity," Schoelles said. "(Gulf Coast Academy) is a charter school the way charter schools are supposed to be.

"It's an opportunity I just can't pass up. It's a great chance to start up a school that's really going to carry on a great tradition."

He said he's always been impressed with the school's commitment to its students' education and with its vision. He lauded Gulf Coast's field activities program, which has always been a central feature of the school.

The 55-year-old Schoelles said this will be a different type of challenge for him.

The goal is not to create a unique school; it's to copy an already high-achieving one and make it just as successful.

The new school will open with just 88 sixth- and seventh-graders. The next year, it will add eighth grade and reach its 120-student capacity.

Students will apply for Gulf Coast Middle, which will be at 2139 Deborah Drive, on the old Pasco-Hernando Community College Spring Hill campus, using the same website and online application they do for Gulf Coast Academy. The application window opens Jan. 1 and closes Jan. 25.

Students and their parents or guardians who submit applications on time are required to visit the school in February. Those applications will then be picked from a lottery.

The new school was largely made possible because of a $400,000 bequest from David Sturgill, a Spring Hill building contractor and real estate agency owner who died in 2009. The science center at the school will be named in his honor.

The new building and land will cost in the neighborhood of $650,000, said Joe Gatti, Gulf Coast Academy's curriculum and instruction director.

Nevin Siefert II, Gulf Coast Academy's director of administration, said the expansion has been a long time coming and culminates a long-standing vision.

"We're ecstatic," he said. "Every year, we've had to hold a lottery in which we've turned away children who are really interested in the sciences and technology. It's heartbreaking."

With the new school, they've doubled their capacity.

For the 2012-13 school year, Gulf Coast Academy accepted 49 of the 120 students who applied, meaning the school denied nearly twice as many students as it accepted.

"We're hoping to accept 90 percent of the people that apply," said Gatti.

He said there already is great interest for next year.

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. Tweet him @HernandoTimes.

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