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Two Hernando County charter schools start off on right foot

BROOKSVILLE

Sixth-grader Sophia Torres stood in front of her table on Thursday morning, eagerly drawing plant and animal cell structures for an assignment.

But something was missing — and it wasn't in her drawing.

All around her, students stood by their desks. A couple sat under them, working.

The issue: No chairs.

About two weeks into the school year, the classroom at the Brooksville Engineering, Science & Technology Academy, one of Hernando County's newest charter schools, was still waiting on a delivery of chairs — the victim of a production mishap, said principal H. Andre Buford.

For what it's worth, the middle school students didn't seem to mind that much.

Torres, a precocious 11-year-old who enjoys both science and language arts, said the first two weeks at the new school have been extremely rewarding.

"I think it's a school full of people who clearly love what they do," she said. "I love this school so far and I think it's going to turn out to be something great."

Brenda Uhlich, another 11-year-old sixth-grader, also said she enjoyed the new school.

"I feel like it's a good fit for me," she said.

The school opened on Aug. 19 with roughly 80 sixth- and seventh-grade students — one of two charters to open this year. Located on School Street in south Brooksville, it's the only charter school on the east side of Hernando County and pulls most of its students from the zone of Parrott Middle School.

Two weeks in, nearly everything is going smoothly, Buford said.

"Overall, I have zero complaints," said Buford. "Things are in line."

The school, commonly known as the BEST Academy, initially planned on starting with 88 students — 66 students in the sixth grade and 20 in seventh. About 10 students dropped out for various reasons, Buford said, and the school is still taking applications.

Buford said he believes students are having a great time, enjoying the atmosphere and the hands-on learning.

The same goes for the parents.

"They're buying in," he said. "I've not had anyone come in not believing what we are doing."

That's exactly how he wants it.

"[The] parents know that they have ownership," Buford said. "I've invited them to come over and look. We want ourselves to be held accountable for the things we're doing in the school."

Vicky Rivera, 47, decided to send her 12-year-old daughter, Elena, to BEST when her daughter didn't want to go to Parrott.

"I wanted more for her," she said, noting that her daughter has expressed interest in the sciences.

Rivera says she's noticed a big difference.

In elementary school, her daughter would drag in the morning. No more.

"Now, the alarm clock goes off and she gets up and makes sure she's on time to school," Rivera said.

At Hernando's other new charter, Gulf Coast Middle, the new year also got off to a good start — although not in its own building. That campus, off Spring Hill Drive, is expected to be complete in mid September.

The school — a replication of the high-achieving Gulf Coast Academy in Spring Hill — started with 110 students across all three middle school grades. It is being temporarily housed in six portables buildings at Fox Chapel Middle School.

"We couldn't have asked for a smoother beginning," said Nevin Siefert II, Gulf Coast Academy's director of administration.

Contact Danny Valentine at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Two Hernando County charter schools start off on right foot 08/30/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 30, 2013 5:44pm]

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