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STAR Education Center in line for new name

BROOKSVILLE — The county's alternative school is in the midst of a rebranding effort.

A recommendation to change the moniker of the STAR Education Center in Brooksville is more than name-deep, superintendent Bryan Blavatt said.

"We want to make it appear to be what it is, and that's a learning academy," he said.

The School Board will consider next week a new name for STAR. The top two recommendations, based on votes by students and staff: The Endeavor Academy, and the Hernando County Learning Academy.

There certainly is a branding element to the name change, Blavatt acknowledged.

STAR stands for "students at risk," and the alternative school for students with discipline and attendance problems is for many students the last place to shape up before expulsion. The school off U.S. 41 north of downtown Brooksville still will serve that population.

But the campus does more than that now, Blavatt said, and the name should reflect that. A big component is a focus on technology to help students who haven't been successful in traditional classrooms.

STAR for years has been home to the Technology Oriented Performance Program, or TOPP, which is not necessarily for students with behavior problems. The computer-based program is designed to help those behind in credits or struggling with a low grade-point average.

Most recently, though, STAR served as a launching pad of sorts for the district's new virtual school program, Hernando eSchool. The program came online districtwide last year, and STAR principal Debbie Harris has been instrumental in the effort.

Students have been taking online classes through Florida Virtual School for years, and the program has grown increasingly popular here. Hernando eSchool is officially a franchise of the Florida Virtual School, and the district leases the courses.

Now, though, local teachers are the instructors and are available for face-to-face time with students. Another advantage: The district gets to keep some per-student state funding for the program.

The new format has been a boon to STAR students, Blavatt said. Scores and attendance rates have improved just in the last year, he said.

Whatever the name, the campus will ultimately be a place not just for students with attendance or discipline issues, but also a hub for students who will have more success through virtual school, Blavatt said.

"In other words, STAR will become secondary to the virtual," he said.

The school still will be a way station for many students who want to return to their home schools, though, and the method to decide when they return has changed, too.

In the past, students typically stayed at STAR for a certain amount of time and returned to their home school if they didn't have any discipline issues. Now they work on a points system to give them clear behavior goals and positive motivation, Blavatt said.

"They have to prove they're ready to come back," he said.

The Star Education Center originally opened as the Opportunity School at Lake Lindsey in 1976. Two years later, the school moved to its current location on Varsity Drive.

After a few location changes in the early 1990s, the school moved back to Varsity in 1996 and took the STAR name the next year.

By all accounts, the school has had the benefit of two solid administrators since 2009, when longtime principal John Shepherd was moved to another school by then-superintendent Wayne Alexander.

John Stratton, a popular administrator in the county with a knack for reaching troubled students, applied for the job and took over in the summer that year, making progress even in his short tenure before being tapped in January 2010 to take the principal post at Explorer K-8.

Harris had worked as an assistant principal at STAR from 2005 to 2007 and was picked by interim superintendent Sonya Jackson to replace Stratton. Harris told the Times last year that she felt like she'd come home.

She couldn't be reached Wednesday. But Blavatt said he met with her earlier in the day to talk about her annual evaluation.

"She's doing a great job," he said. "Her data in all areas show she's met or exceeded goals."

Harris might get more administrative help at STAR, however, so she can focus more on growing eSchool throughout the district, Blavatt said.

The board will consider the name change at a 2 p.m. workshop on Tuesday at district headquarters in Brooksville.

The change makes sense to Chairman James Yant, who agreed it's probably time to move on from "STAR" and the stigma that comes with it.

"We should look at those kids as having a chance to improve and do the type of things that are expected, rather than banished to an island," Yant said.

He said he's partial to Hernando County Learning Academy because it lends an inclusive feel.

"The students have a greater responsibility of tying themselves into the county," he said. "It's a larger connotation."

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

. Fast facts

A change is coming

• STAR Education Center in Brooksville is expected to get a new name.

• One of two names most favored by staff and students, Endeavor Academy and Hernando County Learning Academy, is likely.

• The Hernando School Board is expected to consider the change at its meeting next week.

STAR Education Center in line for new name 04/27/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 27, 2011 9:15pm]

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