Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas investigating complaints about new charter school

University Preparatory Academy is being operated at the old Southside Fundamental Middle School building. The charter is just a few weeks old, but parents are complaining that students are being kicked out and that teachers are already quitting. Pinellas County school officials are investigating the claims, which the charter’s founder denies.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times

University Preparatory Academy is being operated at the old Southside Fundamental Middle School building. The charter is just a few weeks old, but parents are complaining that students are being kicked out and that teachers are already quitting. Pinellas County school officials are investigating the claims, which the charter’s founder denies.

Pinellas County school officials are investigating parents' claims that a new St. Petersburg charter school is kicking out students with behavior issues.

Members of the School Board and community also have raised concerns about teachers quitting in the opening weeks of University Preparatory Academy's first school year.

"First we have to investigate to see what in the world is going on," said Dot Clark, the partnership schools coordinator for Pinellas County schools.

Clark said that in the past few days, she has received phone calls from parents "about students who might have been told they need to find another place."

A public charter school can't pick and choose which students it wants to keep, Clark said. "Cherry picking" students would allow a school to boost its test scores, attendance rates and other performance measures. "We're asking: Are you doing that? And if so, what's the justification? And it needs to stop."

University Prep founder Cheri Shannon acknowledged Thursday that the school has had some issues in its opening weeks and said some students have left voluntarily. But she challenged reports that the school was cherry picking.

University Prep opened last month at the former site of Southside Fundamental Middle. The new charter showed promise, enrolling 515 children, with 100 more on its waiting list.

It also took on a big challenge, drawing kids from Melrose, Maximo and Campbell Park — all regular elementary schools with D and F grades and large numbers of poor, minority students.

But at a meeting this week of the Concerned Citizens for Quality Education for Black Students, some accused University Prep of rejecting the community rather than embracing it.

"I am very concerned about University Prep. They have a discipline problem over there," said Frances Cato, a coordinator with the Pinellas Opportunity Council. "They had a teacher quit after the first week. They had a teacher quit after the second week."

After the meeting, School Board member Terry Krassner said she had heard students were returning to Melrose.

"If a charter school's not going to embrace the kids and work what they have, then what's the point?" Krassner said. "I mean, if you're just kicking them out? It's still a public school."

Watson Haynes, president of the Pinellas County Urban League, said University Prep cut off communication after the School Board approved its charter. Both the Urban League and Concerned Citizens helped gather support for the school.

Shannon said there was no falling out. She had been busy getting the school running.

Shannon denied sending students back to their home schools. However, she acknowledged that some parents have elected to withdraw their children.

In some cases, even though Shannon had gone through with the withdrawal paperwork and filled the child's seat, the parent kept sending the child. Shannon said she had to explain to the parent that the child was no longer enrolled.

Another possible explanation for the complaints, Shannon said, was that the mother of a suspended first-grader had threatened this week to go to the School Board.

It was also possible that University Prep teachers were using language with children that could be misunderstood, Shannon said. "It could be when we say, 'Where did you go last year? If this isn't working out, you're going to have to find something else because you're doing this behavior and you've been kicked out of three schools already. What's next for you?' "

Shannon said she would talk with staff Thursday evening.

One teacher did quit after a student knocked her over, Shannon said. The school's director of curriculum also resigned. "She said she just wasn't prepared for our population."

Pinellas investigating complaints about new charter school 09/05/13 [Last modified: Thursday, September 5, 2013 9:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review: Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald team up to cool down the Clearwater Jazz Holiday

    Blogs

    A cool breeze swept through Coachman Park Saturday night. Couple of them, actually.

    Kenny Loggins performed at the Clearwater Jazz Holiday on Oct. 21, 2017.
  2. No. 16 USF hangs on at Tulane, off to first 7-0 start

    College

    NEW ORLEANS — After half a season of mismatches, USF found itself in a grudge match Saturday night.

    USF quarterback Quinton Flowers (9) runs for a touchdown against Tulane during the first half of an NCAA college football game in New Orleans, La., Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle) LADH103
  3. Lightning buries Penguins (w/video)

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Ryan Callahan spent a lot of time last season rehabilitating his injured hip alongside Steven Stamkos, who was rehabbing a knee after season-ending surgery. During those hours, Callahan noticed two things about Stamkos: his hunger and his excitement to return this season.

    Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Slater Koekkoek (29) advances the puck through the neutral zone during the first period of Saturday???‚??„?s (10/21/17) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  4. Spain planning to strip Catalonia of its autonomy

    World

    BARCELONA, Spain — The escalating confrontation over Catalonia's independence drive took its most serious turn Saturday as Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain announced he would remove the leadership of the restive region and initiate a process of direct rule by the central government in Madrid.

    Demonstrators in Barcelona protest the decision to take control of Catalonia to derail the independence movement.
  5. Funeral held for soldier at center of political war of words (w/video)

    Nation

    COOPER CITY — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102