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School Board votes Tuesday on closing Imagine School K-5 grades

Brianna Cushingberry, top, and Jasmine Williams sing their ABCs while pointing at the letters at the St. Pete school.

CHERIE DIEZ | Times (2012)

Brianna Cushingberry, top, and Jasmine Williams sing their ABCs while pointing at the letters at the St. Pete school.

It depends on whom you ask.

The Imagine School at St. Petersburg is, according to parent Roderick Dunson, a place he and his wife "prayed to our God that our child would be able to enroll." It's a welcoming charter school where his daughter earns all A's, said Dunson, who also serves on the school's board.

But if you ask the state, and its drawers full of data, Imagine is a failing school routinely outperformed by neighboring traditional schools.

And if you ask the school district, Imagine needs to go.

The Pinellas School Board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to close the K-8 charter's elementary grades after taking initial steps toward closure in December. Grades 6-8 would remain intact.

"The kids have lost, essentially, an elementary education," Dot Clark, the district's coordinator of partnership schools, said at an informal hearing last week. "This is the fifth year of operation and we're not seeing any results."

Imagine has received a school grade of F for three of the past four years. (In 2010-11, after receiving extensive support from the School Board, Imagine's grade was revised to a D.) Less than half of students made learning gains in reading or math last year, and Florida named Imagine the ninth-lowest of the "Low 100" schools in the state.

The neighborhood schools surrounding Imagine aren't exactly on the honor roll, but only one of the five schools that would absorb Imagine students is an F school, and that school — Maximo Elementary — is seeing more students improve year to year.

The whole point of a charter school is to do better than neighborhood schools, Clark said.

But these F's — as red-inked as they are — don't tell the full story of a turnaround brewing at Imagine, the school's leaders say.

New principal Carolyn Wilson said her school has been frustrated by disengaged parents who can't come to the school because of their work schedules. So she and her staff go to them.

"Sometimes we have been at other people's homes until 9 p.m.," said Wilson, who has also begun holding conferences for parents on Saturdays.

And she has been mindful of increasing student services, forming a new partnership with the Barnes Holistic Counseling Therapies Institute.

"We are asking you to give us the opportunity to demonstrate that Imagine School is on the rise for the better," Wilson said.

Clark said Imagine has had plenty of chances.

So who's right?

Is Imagine a failing school, failing its students? Or is Imagine doing its best with a challenging population and going to do better?

Rod Sasse, the executive vice president for the Florida region of Imagine Schools, denied a request from the Tampa Bay Times to visit the school. He said students "have been disrupted so many times and are in such confusion about what the School Board is trying to do."

A reporter would not observe anything noteworthy, Sasse said.

"I don't think you'll see anything more than children engaged in an educational process. I don't think you'll have any lightbulbs going off, saying 'Wow, this is really happening.' "

Lisa Gartner can be reached at lgartner@tampabay.com.

School Board votes Tuesday on closing Imagine School K-5 grades 01/26/13 [Last modified: Sunday, January 27, 2013 1:07pm]
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