Another charter school is coming to St. Petersburg.
Plato Academy, which runs a series of high-performing charters throughout Pinellas, received approval from the Pinellas School Board on Tuesday to open a seventh school in the district.
Plato Academy East St. Petersburg, a K-8 school, likely will be located near the intersection of Interstate 275 and Gandy Boulevard, said Dot Clark, the Pinellas administrator who oversees charter applications.
Although approved for a five-year contract, Plato will use 2014-15 as a planning year and start classes in August 2015.
"We take things one step at a time, and we've been successful because we do our due diligence," said Nick Koularmanis, chief academic and student support services officer for Plato Academy Schools.
Plato opened its first St. Petersburg location last school year for kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade students. It also has schools in Clearwater, Largo, Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs and Seminole.
Once mostly a north county phenomenon, charter schools have been cropping up in recent years south of Ulmerton Road, closer to Pinellas' most struggling traditional schools.
Last year, University Preparatory Academy opened to more than 400 students in the Midtown area of St. Petersburg. There's also MYcro School, Alfred Adler School, St. Petersburg Collegiate High and Windsor Preparatory Academy, all with different approaches to education.
But none has such an extensive track record as Plato, whose schools all received A grades in 2013.
"Our goal is to service wherever there's a need," said Koularmanis of the new location. It's not uncommon for families from the neediest pockets of St. Petersburg to travel 30 minutes or more to attend a north county Plato campus, he said, adding that more than 10,000 students are on wait lists for the small schools.
Much like Pinellas' fundamental schools, Plato schools focus on strict discipline and dress codes, as well as value-driven instruction. Academics emphasize reading, math and Greek as a second language.
The Plato philosophy doesn't vary even when applied in a different community, Koularmanis said. "Every student is the same regardless of where they come from, regardless of background. Models don't change."
The new St. Petersburg school likely will start off as a K-2 or K-3 and build up to a K-8 campus, he said: "Parents need to be aware that there are other options out there."
According to the charter agreement approved Tuesday, the school eventually plans to enroll up to 728 students.