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Dayspring Academy and Imagine School seek to expand enrollment

LAND O'LAKES — Two Pasco County charter schools are asking permission to expand their enrollments in preparation for the 2011-12 academic year.

The Pasco school district staff partially supports the proposal submitted by Dayspring Academy in Port Richey and opposes the one filed by Imagine School at Land O'Lakes.

Representatives from both charter schools plan to attend the School Board's meeting Tuesday to make the case for their requests.

"I will certainly be responding," Imagine School principal Kathy Helean said.

Imagine School has proposed increasing its maximum student population to 650 from its current 548.

In the past, the Pasco County Commission has raised concerns about the school's traffic at its current location, an office complex on State Road 54 west of Sunlake Boulevard. As a result, the commission approved a capacity of no more than 624 students.

That approval came too late for the School Board, though, which over the summer denied Imagine's request to grow to that level.

Looking ahead, the district has another concern about letting the charter school expand: Its current enrollment slide. Imagine School had 467 students in its February state head count, down from 484 in October and well below the 548 it can accept.

"Nothing we have says they can meet capacity," superintendent Heather Fiorentino said, adding that the school has not made improvements to traffic patterns, either.

Helean said she could understand some of the district's concerns with the existing school site.

"But we are in a temporary location," she said. "We are building a new school across the street on Sunlake Boulevard."

The new 38-classroom campus would have plenty of space for a larger student body once it opens in October, she said. It also would be more attractive to new students, she added.

"It's hard to increase enrollment when you continue to be at a temporary site," Helean said.

Dayspring Academy, which has lengthy waiting lists, has not had trouble attracting students. It added a third kindergarten class a couple of years ago, and each year has added an extra class at the grade level those children are moving into.

Its request this year is to expand its third grade.

Fiorentino said the district has no problem with that.

"They have the capacity. They have everything needed," she said. "We don't have any reason we can say no."

The part of Dayspring's application that troubles the district staff is its request to allow 18 students in its prekindergarten program direct access to the K-8 school without going through a lottery for admission.

"We'd like to keep the families together," Dayspring administrator Suzanne Legg said. "If we're serving their needs in K-8, we'd like to be able to serve them in pre-k."

Pre-k is not included in the school's current charter contract with the district.

School Board members denied this idea in December, saying that they did not want to set a precedent for other schools that have preschools that do not feed into their kindergarten program. District staffers also pointed to state law requiring that charter schools run a lottery for all students who apply for open seats.

Dayspring's proposal could fill all its kindergarten seats without ever opening it to general admission.

Legg said the school's goal was to provide a seamless curriculum to students beginning with pre-k, if possible. She said if there were more children in the pre-k program than there were kindergarten seats, the school would have a lottery for those students.

"We're going to be looking closer at the statutes," she said, adding that Dayspring officials have been in contact with the Florida Department of Education for guidance. "We are hoping to get some clarification."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Dayspring Academy and Imagine School seek to expand enrollment 02/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 24, 2011 8:09pm]
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