Saturday, January 20, 2018
Education

Pinellas to take over alternative charter school

The Pinellas County school system is poised to take over an alternative charter high school, with a mission to steer struggling students to graduation.

Gulf Coast Academy in Largo will close its doors in early June. It's expected to reopen as a Pinellas County public school in August.

District officials told the School Board this month that the mission remains the same: Help at-risk students earn a high school diploma. But Pinellas County hopes to do a better job — Gulf Coast Academy's graduation rate last spring was 7 percent.

Rita Vasquez, the district's head of high school education, said most students at the school already are behind academically, have low grade-point averages, have poor attendance records and are older than their peers because of previous retentions. The school's "traditional learning environment" hasn't met their needs, she said.

About 350 students are enrolled.

To help students succeed, Gulf Coast Academy will offer flexibility, with three sessions per day, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. If needed, students could change from one session to another to accommodate schedules.

The school also will focus on an accelerated diploma option, requiring 18 credits to graduate. Students still could opt for the 24-credit option, she said. District officials also plan to add "obvious hooks," such as digital music and digital art, she said. Details still are being worked out.

Gulf Coast Academy previously operated as Mavericks in Education, but its local board cut ties with the management company and changed the school's name after Pinellas school officials discovered in 2012 that the charter had serious academic deficiencies. The management company had changed to a curriculum that didn't meet state standards and was encouraging teachers to change grades and reduce assignments based on their judgment instead of actual course completion.

The local board informed the district it would close the school in June, opening the door for superintendent Mike Grego's plan to take over. For students, there should be little break in their academic stride as the transition occurs. Students who would have taken courses during the summer months should be able to participate in the school district's summer programs.

William Corbett, the district's deputy superintendent, said it should cost about $50,000 to make some changes to the school's existing site. Those costs will be built into the lease, he said, the cost of which has been reduced from what the local board paid. The total cost to run the school in the 2014-15 school year is estimated at $2.2 million, with about $156,000 rent.

The reopening is slated for Aug. 18. District officials haven't decided yet whether to keep the school's name.

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8846. Follow her on Twitter @Fitz_ly.

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