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Hernando charter school group reapplies with revised plan

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times   Hernando County School District
DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times Hernando County School District
Published Mar. 21, 2018

BROOKSVILLE — The group behind a charter school application withdrawn last year amid criticism by Hernando County school officials has reapplied with a revised plan to be reconsidered next month.

Just before an interview with district staff on Tuesday, Michael Maynard, chairman of the proposed Chehuntamo Advanced Performance High School, said his team had made changes to "address as many of (the School Board's) concerns as possible" in hopes of gaining approval to open in 2019.

Most notably, the group identified a site for the school if it's approved: a nearly 5-acre property off Spring Time Street, north of County Line Road. Property records show it has a market value of about $216,000. Maynard has said the school would serve "academically advanced" students from Hernando and Pasco counties.

According to the new application, set to be presented to the School Board April 24, the school would open with a 10,000-square-foot building "designed to be expandable as the student population grows." The space would include six classrooms, a lab, a media and testing center, a lunch area and administrative offices.

At their first presentation to the School Board in November, Maynard and his team of past area educators — many of whom were fired from or pushed out of their previous posts amid scandal — were unable to answer many questions posed by officials.

Pointing to holes and errors in the previous application, board member Mark Johnson said at the time he was "appalled at the lack of preparedness." Others expressed shock at the group's suggestion to charge Chehuntamo applicants a $100 fee and to "dismiss" struggling students, both of which are illegal under state law.

A past advanced-placement teacher in the Pasco County School District, Maynard said this week that Chehuntamo has been under "microscopic focus" by the Hernando School Board. He said that was not the case for other charter school applicants.

"We were characterized the first time around for being elitist, because we need students that understand the value of hard work," he said. "We have done every possible thing to remove any perception that we are."

Maynard said that unlike before, the school now has remediation plans in place for students who fall behind. Should a student's grade drop below a C in any class, administrators will schedule a parent-student-teacher conference to develop an improvement plan, he said. As students prepare to graduate, Maynard said he personally will help them with college applications and admissions essays.

Last year, when board members questioned Maynard about Chehuntamo's safety measures, he had no answer. Now, he said, he plans to have a school nurse and a school resource officer in place by the school's third operational year.

Until then, he said, he would hire a part-time health care professional qualified to dispense medication and would pay the Hernando County Sheriff's Office to do more frequent stop-ins. Maynard said he knows of a local doctor, who he did not name, who "would be willing to provide us complete online diagnoses if we have a problem." The new application also mentions exterior security cameras.

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Maynard previously was unable to say whether the school would use the district's food or bus services. The new application states that Chehuntamo students would be responsible for their own transportation, but it remains unclear if the entire school will use the district's breakfast and lunch services. The application said the school will "search for a collaborative solution" to make sure students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches can participate in the program.

Maynard said he will advertise in the newspaper and use word of mouth to recruit "highly qualified" teachers, whose average salary is now budgeted at $46,000, plus benefits and bonuses.

"As a group, we are well-known and recognized for being some pretty capable people," he said. "I'm not concerned about getting good applicants."

While some board members, including Beth Narverud, said Tuesday they haven't gone through the new application for Chehuntamo yet, Susan Duval had and said she still doesn't see a "prevailing reason" the school should open in Hernando County.

"With all the high schools that we have in the county ... this really isn't filling a niche that is needed in the district," she said, repeating previous concerns about the vexed reputations of those behind the school. "It disturbs me that we would have a charter school with a cloud of suspicion around it."

Maynard disagrees. He said Chehuntamo will be a "game changer" and offer more to students than the district does.

"We don't want to take away from the public school system, we want to add to it, to give many more kids the opportunity to succeed," he said. "I don't think that's such a bad thing."

The Chehuntamo team will make its presentation to the School Board during a workshop at 2 p.m. on April 24. At 6 p.m. that evening, the board will vote on the school's approval.

Contact Megan Reeves at mreeves@tampabay.com. Follow @mareevs.

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