Pinellas School Board plans to shut Imagine Charter School in St. Petersburg

Published Dec. 12, 2012

In a unanimous vote, the Pinellas School Board on Tuesday said it intends to shut Imagine Charter School, a once-promising school in downtown St. Petersburg that has faltered academically since it opened.

The board voted 7-0 to give the school a 90-day notice of its intent to revoke the school's charter, which would have the practical impact of closing Imagine by the end of this school year.

"I don't think there's any doubt about the caring and dedication of the staff," School Board member Peggy O'Shea said. But, she added, "I have concerns about the school based on the results."

Although school officials asked for more time before Tuesday's vote, O'Shea said one important reason for voting immediately was to give parents a chance to start looking at other schools for their children.

But closing the school has been a lengthy process.

In spite of earning F grades for three years and a D in a fourth, and being placed among Florida's 100 lowest-performing schools, Imagine can request an appeal hearing before the School Board. After that, it could appeal to the state Department of Administrative Hearings.

School Board member Linda Lerner said she was voting reluctantly for the 90-day notice. "I don't see this as the final vote, personally," she added.

She said she had visited the school at 1950 First Ave. N more than once "and things seemed to be good, but apparently there are some difficulties."

Imagine school officials said they did not view the decision as a vote to shut down the school. They said they will redouble their efforts to show academic improvement — and to compare Imagine's performance to other south Pinellas schools — in hopes of still winning approval from the board.

"We are surprised that the School Board feels that now is the time to provide the 90-day notice of nonrenewal," said Christine Watson, regional director for Imagine Schools. But she said officials absolutely plan to keep Imagine open.

Principal Carolyn Wilson said school officials would inform parents and students of the board's decision. But, she said, "by no means" would parents be told to move their students to other schools because Imagine is closing down.

Imagine officials acknowledged they had not yet achieved the results they want, but believe they are on the right track. They also said Imagine's FCAT scores were similar to those of other nearby schools.

"We believe that given the opportunity, we can prove ourselves successful," said Clarence E. Wilson, chairman of the school's governing board. He made a blunt promise to the board: If the school doesn't get a school grade of C, school officials would voluntarily withdraw its request to have its charter renewed.