Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Charter school's commercial avoids F grade

TAMPA — Woodmont Charter School, an F-rated elementary and middle school, is advertising on television for more students.

The 30-second cable spot shows children listening attentively, raising their hands, working on computers and romping through the playground.

But it doesn't mention the school's grade.

"I'm not going to advertise that Woodmont got an F," said Colleen Reynolds, spokeswoman for Charter Schools USA, which manages the school. "But I don't think we overhype it either."

The ad, nevertheless, is just the type of thing that stirs up critics of charter schools, which use tax dollars but are run independently of government districts.

"The state goes out of its way, as it should, to inform parents of the grades and the achievement of schools," said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association, a federation of teachers unions.

"But it's not quite a level playing field when someone can put an ad on TV, and you know it's not going to say anything about the grade."

Woodmont, with 650 students at its campus in Temple Terrace, is well below its enrollment target of 913.

Reynolds would not say how much the for-profit Charter Schools USA spends on the ads, for competitive reasons. But although Woodmont has a marketing budget of $74,500 that comes from public money, she said the company is underwriting the entire cost.

"It goes back to doing the right things for children," she said. "We never, ever, ever skimp on something students need in order to pay for marketing."

The commercials are not as expensive as some might think, Reynolds said. A 30-second cable spot can run from $18 to $45. And, as the school is struggling, she said the company is forgoing the 10 percent of revenues it can take for administration.

Charters, which have been around about 20 years, are growing by about 15 percent a year in Florida and 20 percent in Hillsborough.

Because of those numbers, School Board members in Hillsborough, which lost $68 million in state funding to charters in 2012-13, are discussing the growing need to showcase the district's schools and programs.

The debate extends far beyond the district and state. In Pennsylvania, school districts have responded to aggressive charter advertising with billboards, television and Internet ads and cash bonuses to lure students back.

When asked if Hillsborough should consider television, board member Candy Olson said that doesn't seem likely. "But I would never say never," she said. "We certainly need to be aware of how we can get our message out."

The message, at Woodmont, speaks to individual attention.

"Expect more from your school," the announcer says. "More caring. More commitment. More success." Many schools see students as numbers, the voice continues. "Woodmont Charter School sees your child."

Launched in 2011, Woodmont sought to have 79 percent of its students score at least a level 3 — considered proficient — on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test in reading.

But, as happened at a lot of schools under stricter scoring standards, the reality was not so rosy. Between 40 and 53 percent of Woodmont's students scored 3's in 2012. In 2013, when the test became even tougher, 27 to 36 percent reached proficiency.

The F grade — down from a D in 2012 — is one reason superintendent MaryEllen Elia gave for opposing Charter Schools USA's proposal for a school at MacDill Air Force Base.

Reynolds said it often takes two to three years to raise school grades when a school is based in a disadvantaged community. At Woodmont, 83 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Principal Steven Epstein, who also opened the popular Henderson Hammock Charter School in Citrus Park, said Woodmont contends with many of the same issues as district-run schools in lower-income communities.

Parents, who are often single, work long hours. Getting them involved takes time, he said.

Like district-run schools with low grades, Woodmont is seeking to improve performance through a longer school day and tutoring sessions on Saturdays.

"I don't think the grade represents who we are," he said. Among other things, he said, the school provides a second chance for students who did not have good experiences at district-run schools. "A lot of parents say, I just want to try something different,' " he said.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or sokol@tampabay.com.

Charter school's commercial avoids F grade 02/08/14 [Last modified: Saturday, February 8, 2014 10:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Water Hogs: During drought, hundreds of Tampa Bay homes guzzled a gallon of water a minute

    Drought

    When Amalie Oil president Harry Barkett plunked down $6.75-million for his Bayshore Boulevard mansion, he picked up 12.5 bathrooms, a pool, a hot tub, an elevator and a deck bigger than some one-bedroom apartments.

    During one of the worst droughts in the Tampa Bay region's history, hundreds of houses used more than a gallon of water a minute. ALESSANDRA DA PRA  |   Times

  2. PolitiFact Florida checks out Rick Baker's talking point about the growth of St. Petersburg's A-rated schools

    Elections

    Rick Baker has used mailers, forums and social media to relay one big message in his campaign for St. Petersburg mayor: Schools in St. Petersburg saw drastic improvements when he was mayor from 2001 to 2010.

    Rick Baker, candidate for St. Petersburg mayor
  3. Lady Antebellum's Charles Kelly talks family, songwriting and more before Tampa show

    Music & Concerts

    A while back at the Grammys, Charles Kelley found himself in the same room as Paul McCartney. The Lady Antebellum singer, a seven-time Grammy winner in his own right, couldn't work up the courage to say hello.

    Lady Antebellum perform at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre on Friday. Credit: Eric Ray Davidson
  4. Clearwater suspect due in court after 9 die in sweltering San Antonio truck

    Nation

    SAN ANTONIO — Nine people are dead and the death toll could rise after emergency crews pulled dozens of people from a sweltering tractor-trailer found parked outside a Walmart in the midsummer Texas heat, victims of what officials said was an immigrant-smuggling attempt gone wrong.

    San Antonio police officers investigate the scene where eight people were found dead in a tractor-trailer loaded with at least 30 others outside a Walmart store in stifling summer heat in what police are calling a horrific human trafficking case, Sunday, July 23, 2017, in San Antonio. [Associated Press]
  5. Email warning ignored before St. Pete started spewing sewage

    Water

    ST. PETERSBURG — A draft report lays blame for the city's sewage crisis squarely on the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman and a cascading series of errors that started with the now infamous shuttering of the Albert Whitted Water Reclamation Facility in 2015.

    Signs at North Shore Park in St. Petersburg warn people in September 2016 to stay out of the water due to contamination from partially treated sewage from the city's overwhelmed sewer system. St. Petersburg dumped up to 200 million gallons of sewage over 13 months from 2015-16. A new state report blames much of the crisis on mistakes made by the administration of Mayor Rick Kriseman, but also critcizes past administrations. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]