Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Education

Pinellas County charter schools growing

Blink and you missed it. Charter schools are staking ground in Pinellas.

Five years ago, there were seven charter schools in the county. Now, 23 charters have been approved by the Pinellas County School Board.

But what should you know about charter schools when picking a school for your children?

First, charter schools are public schools. They just aren't neighborhood schools and, because sometimes more students want to attend than they can serve, charters hold lotteries for admission. Charter schools also have more freedom to make hiring and staffing decisions.

With more control over their campuses, charters pull out bells and whistles like longer school days, focuses on math or literacy, and more in the hopes of better serving certain students than the traditional setting would.

Plato Academy, with six locations in Pinellas, teaches students Greek and uses the Socratic method to encourage discussion in classrooms. University Preparatory Academy, targeting low-income families in St. Petersburg, segregates students by gender in academic classes.

Dot Clark, the district's coordinator of charter schools, said she has noticed parents seeking charter schools that are K-8 so that they can have their children at the same school. Additionally, charter schools are often smaller than traditional schools. "I think a lot of (parents) also like the smaller school atmosphere," she said.

Most Pinellas charter schools are in the northern area of the county; few operate south of 54th Avenue N in St. Petersburg, Clark said.

While charters host everything from bilingual classrooms to dance academies, Clark said she has seen more and more applications focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. There has also been an emphasis on dropout prevention.

A K-12 virtual school was just approved to open, while a few more charters are in contract negotiations with the district.

Unlike traditional schools, charter schools don't necessarily provide buses for students who hail from throughout the county. Some do, but many don't. Clark urged interested parents to contact the school's principal, because they often know of carpool arrangements.

Lisa Gartner can be reached at [email protected]

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