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Pasco charter school idea already has two backers in Florida legislature

A proposed charter school near Land O'Lakes can count two future state House speakers as supporters. The founder is married to Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, and Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, is one of the school's board members.

Anne Corcoran, who owns a law firm with her husband, submitted a letter of intent to the Pasco school district two weeks ago to start the Classical Preparatory School, set to open in August 2012 if approved.

"There are quite a number of charter classical schools in other states, but there aren't any in Florida," she said. "I was hoping someone would start one, but at this point I guess it's going to be me."

Classical schools focus on throwback teaching methods and classical content such as Homer or Latin classes. Early grades focus on basic rules for spelling, grammar and math. Middle school students in the "logic phase" start to learn why things happen and begin to connect different fields of study. High school students learn to clearly express their ideas and apply those rules of logic.

Initially the school would offer grades K-6, with a maximum enrollment of 140. It would plan to expand to 10th grade by 2016, serving 340 students.

Corcoran said she is drafting the application with her friend Gina Curtis, who has taught in traditional public schools and in a private classical school. Also listed as a founding board member is Weatherford, who is slated to take over as House Speaker in 2013. He said he will serve in an advisory role for the school.

"Richard called me and invited me to be a part of it," he said. "I told him I'd be honored."

Weatherford is chairman of the House education policy committee and has played a major role in several Republican education reforms, including a new law that overhauls how teachers are hired and paid and a failed constitutional amendment to loosen minimum class size requirements.

Corcoran said she wanted Weatherford on the board to add another perspective. She said he hasn't been as active as herself or Curtis in drafting the application, but that he could draw on his education policy background in board meetings. The two had been talking on and off for about a year about the idea of a classical school, she said.

Classical Prep would be Pasco's sixth charter school. Charters are recognized as public schools and receive state money, but are privately run. Teachers and staff are not employed by the school district but by the charter school. The schools can seek grants and donations.

A full application for the school is due Aug. 1. District officials have 60 days to accept or deny the proposal. Pasco's charter school supervisor, Nancy Scowcroft, said districts often ask for an extension. That could stretch the decision into November.

Scowcroft said she receives a handful of applications each year and could get up to 10 this year. With only five charters approved since 2000, the denial rate is high. "We have a very high standard," she said.

Corcoran said the school would be located on the State Road 54 corridor, between Gunn Highway and Collier Parkway. She said they are still negotiating a specific location.

That location would place it in the vicinity of Berean Academy, a private school in north Hillsborough that closed this summer and had emphasized a classical Christian approach to teaching. Corcoran's children used to attend Berean. She said its closure was an impetus to start a classical school for public school students.

"Just having classical education be available to more people besides those that can afford it is very attractive to me," she said.

Classical Prep wouldn't be the first Pasco charter with a legislative connection. Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, and his wife Suzanne co-founded Dayspring Academy in 2000, and both still serve as administrators at the school.

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

Pasco charter school idea already has two backers in Florida legislature 06/15/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 9:54pm]

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