Proposed Gulf Coast Middle charter school in Hernando approved by board

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando's lone charter school is a step closer to replicating itself.

Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Technology's plan to open another campus in Spring Hill got the initial nod of the School Board during a workshop Tuesday afternoon. District staffers brought a recommendation to approve the application for Gulf Coast Middle School, and the board voted its approval 5-0 at its regular meeting on Tuesday evening.

A district review committee found that the plan met the standard in 15 of 20 categories ranging from the curriculum and food service plans to management and budget, curriculum supervisor Jeff Yungmann told the board. In the other categories, the application partially met the standard and will require clarification or additional information.

The science-centered curriculum will be identical to Gulf Coast Academy of Science and Technology, which opened in 2003 on Tillery Road in Spring Hill. The schools would share the same board of directors.

School Board members praised Gulf Coast's track record in the county.

"I think one of the reasons it was successful is it was started by local people, and local people know Hernando County," board member Dianne Bonfield said. "I have seen students flourish."

Charter schools are public schools that operate under a performance contract that frees them from many regulations created for traditional public schools. The schools are still held accountable for academic and financial results.

Gulf Coast's new Spring Hill campus will start its first year in fall 2012 with 88 sixth- and seventh-graders who would filter into the eighth grade, and the enrollment would increase to 110 students by the second year and hold there for a few years.

The Gulf Coast board has a contract to purchase about 6 acres of vacant land that was part of the former Pasco-Hernando Community College campus on Spring Hill Drive. The former campus is now owned by Mid-Florida Community Services, which operates a Head Start program in existing buildings.

Gulf Coast benefited from a new law signed by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year that allows "high-performing" charter companies to increase enrollment and open more schools without going through a lengthy approval process. To achieve high-performing status, schools must earn an "A" in the state's accountability system twice in three years and a clean audit for the last three fiscal years.

Gulf Coast has a waiting list and an admissions lottery and has to turn students away each year, school officials have said.

"We're excited to be able to replicate it and provide more choice options for the students of Hernando County," Nevin Siefert II, Gulf Coast's director of administration, told the board.

In other action, the board got an update on the five sidewalk projects the district will submit to the state for funding through the federal Safe Routes to Schools program.

Two of the projects would add to the sidewalk network around Explorer K-8, the district's largest neighborhood school; the other three projects would serve Floyd K-8 and Brooksville and Deltona elementary schools, respectively.

Safe Routes, started in 2005, is a federal grant program administered through the states to help fund infrastructure improvements like sidewalks and bike lines, and educational programs to promote safe walking and bicycling.

County staffers are working on the cost estimates for the projects, county planner Steve Diez told the board. It's likely that the state will award the county enough funds for only one of the projects, and if the money is awarded, construction wouldn't start for another two years, Diez said.

That prompted Bonfield to shake her head in frustration. She noted a portion of the Safe Routes PowerPoint presentation that showed how efforts in other districts are getting students to walk and ride bicycles.

"Every time I see one of these presentations where there's a walking school bus, they're on beautiful sidewalks," said Bonfield, who was the sole dissenter in a vote earlier this year to cut bus service for students who live within 2 miles of school. "They're not going through the conditions our kids are going through."

The community has adjusted well to the bus cuts, but the effort requires the long view, superintendent Bryan Blavatt said.

"I'm feeling better and better about what we're doing, but we're going to have to continue to address routes to school to make it safer and safer," he said.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

Proposed Gulf Coast Middle charter school in Hernando approved by board 09/20/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 9:13pm]

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