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New charter school proposed for struggling Hernando students

BROOKSVILLE — A new for-profit company has applied to open a public charter school in Hernando County just for high school dropouts and at-risk students.

Mavericks in Education of Fort Lauderdale has never run a school in Florida, or anywhere else for that matter. But president and chief executive Mark Thimmig has run dozens of public charter schools in Florida, Ohio and other states as the former head of White Hat Ventures.

He said the new company offers something that most counties have never seen before: a school designed to help struggling students make it.

"I think the thing that really put Hernando on the list is there is not a program anything like this in the county," Thimmig said, describing school dropouts as a "huge crisis" for the state.

His company has filed applications to open 16 Mavericks High Schools across the state, including sites in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties, he said.

At a Tuesday meeting, members of the Hernando County School Board said they knew little about the company or its plans. Staff members said the board would learn more at a Sept. 2 workshop and would be required by state law to vote on the application by Sept. 16.

"When will we be able to see some of that application?" asked board member Jim Malcolm. "I'm just wondering when we get involved in this."

The four-inch-thick application outlines ambitious plans to serve 400 students in 2009 and 550 by 2011. The school would serve those students year-round in three daily shifts, with a heavy dose of technology and individualized instruction.

As a public charter school, Mavericks High would use existing state and local per-student funding. With an enrollment of 400 students, plus two administrators and 27 teachers and others staffers, it would operate on a $3-million annual budget and have a projected first-year surplus of $55,000.

The company has preliminary plans to open the Hernando school at 52 Ponce De Leon Blvd., using public, district or private transportation. In general, Thimmig said, it hopes to lease existing buildings rather than build them outright.

The idea has some local support.

County Commissioner Diane Rowden has signed on as chairwoman of the governing board. Other board members include Linda Prescott, an administrator at Hillsborough Community College, and Patricia Colbert, a former guidance counselor at Hernando High.

Rowden, a former School Board member, described the school as an exciting opportunity to help needy students, particularly those who have been held back in middle school into their middle teens.

"They don't have any place for that child to go because he's not ready to go to high school, and he's still floundering around in middle school," she said. "He's lost. It's our lost generation out there."

In 2007, Hernando County posted a 3.3 percent dropout rate, down from 4.9 percent the previous year. The graduation rate crept up from 74.1 percent to 75.1 percent

Though the school itself would be a nonprofit entity, Thimmig said, its parent company hopes to make money.

"If you're not developing a profitable business, then you'll not be able to sustain it at the level of a gold standard organization," he said.

While charter schools are often criticized for draining state funding from school districts, Thimmig said his company is aiming to help students who have already left school.

"This is about returning kids to the educational process," he said. "This school is not a competitor for students."

Tom Marshall can be reached at tmarshall@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

New charter school proposed for struggling Hernando students 08/13/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 15, 2008 2:08pm]
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