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Pasco may get charter school that focuses on classical learning

LAND O'LAKES — When Anne Corcoran enrolled her children in the Berean Academy in Lutz, she wasn't necessarily after the private school's religious instruction.

The focus on classical learning attracted her.

"I liked the heavy emphasis on languages," said Corcoran, the mother of six and wife of state Rep. Richard Corcoran. "I liked the emphasis on logic, the teaching how to think, and the heavy emphasis on how to communicate. I liked the character elements, and the moral philosophy."

When Berean Academy folded in 2011, Corcoran began home-schooling her children. She also decided to propose a charter school that would focus on classical education.

Her first application, with state Rep. Will Weatherford on the founding board, fell short of School Board muster. A year of plan improvements later, Corcoran won the board's unanimous approval for a charter.

If contract talks go smoothly, she expects to open a Classical Preparatory School for 254 K-8 students next August. Within five years, the school is slated to expand through 12th grade and double in enrollment.

The school has many technical steps to complete before it can operate, including the selection of a local board of trustees, the choice of a location and the naming of a headmaster. Corcoran laughed at the notion that she or a group of parents would run the daily operations of the school, but she also dismissed the idea of hiring a management company to do it. A headmaster with educational credentials will run the school, and an accounting firm will handle the books.

"We are a community school," she said, noting that the bylaws forbid board members from profiting from the operations. "Every penny is going to go back into the school. We want the school to succeed. It's for the students of this community to have a choice."

That choice of a classics-based education is one that Pasco County students don't currently have. Yet it's popular and successful in other areas of the country, with many classical schools rated highly each year in such publications as U.S. News & World Report.

These schools center their curriculum on Western civilization and philosophy, treating knowledge and learning as valuable of their own accord, and not necessarily as a mean to an end.

Rather than trying the reform of the week, classical schools stick with the tried and true. They build upon the methods of ancient Greece and Rome, relying on logic, rhetoric, grammar, character and morals.

"It is called the great conversation of the centuries," Corcoran said. "It is a rigorous curriculum, but I think it can also be a very fun and exciting curriculum."

She has used the highly regarded Ridgeview Classical School in Fort Collins, Colo., for guidance because it's a charter school that must follow similar requirements. She also is looking into connecting with university classics programs to support and supplement the lessons.

Kindergarten through fifth grade kicks off with the fundamentals of grammar and language. Corcoran likes to point out that Dr. Seuss often said his study of Latin influenced his writing style, as it helped him pick words apart.

The middle grades focus on logic, or how to think, and the high school grades take the next step toward rhetoric, or how to express yourself convincingly after using logical analysis. Lessons for parents — such as book sessions on Plato's Republic — also might be in the mix, so they understand what their children are learning.

The school aims to have an informational website running by Jan. 1, with two parent information sessions in February and its enrollment lottery (if necessary) in March.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at jsolochek@tampabay.com.

Pasco may get charter school that focuses on classical learning 10/26/12 [Last modified: Friday, October 26, 2012 8:45pm]
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