Thursday, September 20, 2018
Education

St. Petersburg may get two new charter schools

Following a two-year dry spell, the Pinellas County school district has received two applications to open charter schools in St. Petersburg.

Lighthouse Academies, a nonprofit charter chain with 16 schools in three states, according to its website, submitted an application to open an elementary school in south St. Petersburg. The school plans to open with 340 students next August and expand enrollment to 580 by 2022.

THE GRADEBOOK: All education, all the time

The application, submitted by Patricia Tiggett, a former Pinellas County Schools administrator, says the school is seeking a location with 25,000 to 30,000 square feet. It would have a slightly longer school year and an extended day with "arts infusion," though no specifics were mentioned.

Tiggett did not respond to requests for comment.

If approved, Pinellas Lighthouse Charter Academy would open in the same zip code as Campbell Park Elementary, Lakewood Elementary and Midtown Academy, which are among the lowest-performing schools in the county and have been targeted for extra attention as part of the district's "Transformation Zone."

Midtown Academy was converted into a district-run school in 2016 from University Preparatory Academy, a failed charter school that received three consecutive F grades in three years of operation.

RELATED: Midtown Academy hopes a new theme will lead to better performance

Former School Board member Glen Gilzean sits on Lighthouse Academies' national board. He also served as a non-voting member of University Prep's board in 2013.

Gilzean directed media inquiries to Lighthouse's president and CEO Khori Whittaker, who did not respond to requests for comment.

Pinellas' charter school director Rick Wolfe said Lighthouse has not applied to be one of the "Schools of Hope" authorized this year by the Legislature. Florida lawmakers created the designation to allow charters to open near traditional public schools that are struggling.

St. Petersburg also may become home to the sister campus of Pinellas Academy of Math and Science in Largo. St. Petersburg Academy of Math and Science, if approved, would open in 2018 with students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

According to its application, the school would enroll 624 students in its first year and grow to 1,048 by its fifth year. Wolfe said school officials are eyeing the property at 5175 45th St. N in St. Petersburg that once was home to Windsor Preparatory Academy, which closed last year.

Pinellas Academy is operated by Charter School Associates, a management company based in Coral Springs. The company also submitted applications this fall to open to charter schools in Hillsborough County.

CSA president Michael Strader submitted the application for the St. Petersburg campus. He did not respond to requests for comment.

The application for the St. Petersburg academy set goals to achieve a population that is 50 percent minority students and 68 percent economically disadvantaged. That's far different from the Largo school, which is the least economically diverse school in the district, with 4.4 percent of students identified as disadvantaged.

The Largo school earned a B grade this year and served about 600 students. Wolfe said Pinellas Academy, which opened in 2012, is in good standing with the district.

Both applicants have signed waivers allowing the district's charter school office more time to review their plans.

Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.

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