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Nonprofit group wants to start K-8 charter school in Hernando County

BROOKSVILLE — Two educators with experience running charter schools in Pasco County want to open a K-8 charter here in Hernando.

The district has received an application from Green Door Educational Services to open Nature Coast Charter School in or around Spring Hill in the fall of next year.

The school's curriculum would be based on the principles in Howard Gardner's book Five Minds For the Future, according to the application.

Gardner, an education professor at Harvard University, argues that a holistic education should combine a curriculum that combines traditional subject areas with an emphasis on creativity through the arts, a respectfulness for other cultures, and personal and societal ethics.

"His work really speaks to the way our world is functioning today," said Janine Caffrey, one of two founding board members of Green Door, the nonprofit corporation that would operate the school.

"We're no longer just people who need to know things. We have to be able to analyze and interpret data and use that information to function in the world."

Caffrey, a former teacher, said that same approach is taken at Renaissance Academy, a private Pre-K-12 school she founded in Port Richey. The demand for that school convinced her that a charter school in Hernando could succeed.

"There were countless students who wanted to come to our school but it was simply too far away," Caffrey said. "Hernando County doesn't have the kinds of options for the kind of kids we attract. Bright, creative thinkers who do better in an environment where that thinking is encouraged."

Charter schools are run by private entities that contract with school boards to provide educational services.

Nature Coast Charter School would have a maximum capacity of 450 students through 2015. Student-to-teacher ratios would be 18 to 1 in kindergarten through second grade and 20 to 1 for grades 3 to 8, Caffrey said.

All teachers would be expected to have or be working toward their national board certifications, she said.

Plans call for a laptop computer for every four students in kindergarten through second grade and a computer for each student in grades 3 to 8, Caffrey said. Parents would be expected to take a hands-on approach to their child's education, following progress through online updates and meetings with teachers.

The other founding board member is Manuel Goncalves, the former top administrator at the New Port Richey campus of Athenian Academy, a K-8 charter school.

Caffrey said they plan to grow the board to as many as seven members.

District officials are set to interview Caffrey and Goncalves later this month, said Dave Schoelles, the curriculum specialist with the district who oversees charter applications. The charter review committee, composed of representatives from various district departments, expects to have a recommendation to the School Board as early as next month, Schoelles said.

Green Door's was the only application for a new charter school in Hernando before the deadline closed this week.

That means supporters of a proposed charter school for high school dropouts turned down by the School Board last year have decided not to try again.

Fort Lauderdale-based Mavericks in Education proposed to open the 350-student school in Brooksville. But the district worried that the school's governing board would not have enough fiscal control and questioned whether the demand here would be high enough to make the operation viable.

Mavericks won an appeal to the Charter School Appeal Commission, but that was overturned by the state Board of Education.

Mavericks chief executive officer Mark Thimmig did not return a call for comment Thursday.

Since 1996, the number of charter schools in Florida has grown from five to 389 in 2008-09, with 50 opening last year alone, according to the state Department of Education. Charter school student enrollment for last year surpassed 100,000 students.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Nonprofit group wants to start K-8 charter school in Hernando County 08/06/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 6, 2009 8:28pm]
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