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Groups seek approval to open STEM, at-risk charter schools

Two groups have submitted charter school applications in Hernando County with the hope of creating schools that would give middle and high school students more choices.

One would create a relatively small Brooksville middle school with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math — commonly known as STEM courses. The other would became a high school accommodating up to 600 at-risk students.

Charter school applications were due Aug. 1. The School Board has 60 days, until Sept. 30, to accept or deny the applications.

The Brooksville Engineering, Science and Technology Academy would be at the old Moton School at 835 School St. in south Brooksville, according to the application.

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

Although Hernando has other charter schools, this would be the only one in Brooksville. It would be in the complex that once housed the county's school for African-American students.

"All of the public school choice options are on the west side of the county," said Aimee Whitehead, president of the seven-person board spearheading the effort. "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."

She said that providing the community with more school choice options was "probably the biggest factor" in the effort.

She also said she has a strong belief in STEM programs.

"To be competitive, these are the steps we need to take," she said. "And we need to take them sooner rather than later. ... I believe (the students) will be better enabled to be competitive in a global marketplace."

Whitehead said the school would be modeled loosely after Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Technology in Spring Hill, where her children attended.

"I believe that the Gulf Coast Academy is the gold standard as far as charter schools in this area," she said.

The school would primarily target students who want a smaller school environment and who have an interest in STEM education.

Aside from that, she said community involvement and student involvement in the community would be a significant part of their vision.

The group applying for the school is Brooksville Engineering, Science and Technology Academy Inc., a home-grown board. It will be a nonprofit school, though the organizers have not yet applied for nonprofit status.

The projected opening would be in the fall of 2013.

The second application is for My Choice Accelerated Academy at Hernando, an at-risk high school.

The school would take between 400 and 600 students who are at risk of dropping out or who have already dropped out, said Mike D'Angelo, the board chairman of the nonprofit My Choice Academy Charters Inc., based in Cape Coral.

Some students would attend by choice; others might be referred to the school.

D'Angelo doesn't think the school would reach its capacity.

My Choice has two elementary schools in Palm Beach County. This year, the group has submitted 16 applications for charter schools across Florida, D'Angelo said.

The school would also target students who have aged out of traditional schools — students older than 18 — giving them a second chance. Anyone age 15 to 22 could attend.

Instead of going back to school and getting a GED high school equivalency diploma, students who have aged out would be able to get a traditional diploma.

"The student graduates from high school and becomes a part of the graduation rate for Hernando," D'Angelo said.

He said the traditional diploma provides a more well rounded education and is often more attractive to businesses, giving students an edge when they try to find a job.

" I think a lot of it is personal for the student," D'Angelo added. "They would like to receive a high school diploma."

He said his group hasn't decided on a location in Hernando.

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

Groups seek approval to open STEM, at-risk charter schools 08/25/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 25, 2012 12:28pm]
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