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Gradebook podcast: Charter schools take over a tiny Florida school district. Who’s next?

Jefferson County’s story might offer some insights into the state’s approach to public education on a larger scale.
Somerset Academy Jefferson County in Monticello, about 25 miles east of Tallahassee, is Florida’s first all-charter school district. [Jessica Bakeman | WLRN News] [WLRN]
Published Sep. 5

The tiny Jefferson County school district, about 25 minutes outside Florida’s state capital, turned out poor student performance for more than a decade. Its finances were in peril, too, as the racially divided community battled politically over the flailing school system of about 800 students.

About three years ago, the state stepped in, declaring the district in financial emergency, and then pushing an academic turnaround plan that ultimately turned Jefferson County into a district operated by charter schools.

The efforts, though small in size, offered an insight into the possibilities of where the state might go with other, larger school districts that don’t meet the test-based accountability expectations set by lawmakers.

WLRN radio education reporter Jessica Bakeman spent close to three years looking into the tale of Jefferson County schools. She shares some of her key findings with reporter Jeff Solochek.

RELATED: See WLRN’s complete report, Chartered: Florida’s First Private Takeover Of A Public School System, for more details.


  1. A view of the student center at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, where opposition is mounting over a plan to consolidate USF's three campuses. Some state lawmakers are opposed to parts of it that would concentrate authority over academic decisions in Tampa. CHRIS URSO   |   TIMES  |
    They say the proposal by USF president Steve Currall conflicts with a new Florida law by giving too much authority to the Tampa campus.
  2. Wreckage left behind by Hurricane Michael. News Service of Florida
    Entire school systems are still recovering from long-standing damage and dealing with the disruptive aftermath of the storm.
  3. The National Merit Scholarship program has announced the names of semifinalists for scholarships to be offered in the spring.
    These students are among the top 1 percent of high school seniors in the nation.
  4. Florida schools increasingly are monitoring students' social media for potential threats.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  5. Sally Harris said she has more to accomplish and is mounting a return campaign for the Hillsborough County School Board. [Times | 2014]
    Three people have filed so far for the seat now held by Lynn Gray.
  6. The DeLucio family of Trinity toured the Mitchell High School campus and showed the visit on their YouTube channel, which has more than 1 million subscribers. Many parents, students and school officials were not amused. YouTube
    If approved, a new policy would take effect in early October.
  7. The Hillsborough County School Board holds a workshop in June 2019. Tampa Bay Times
    The chairwoman looks for ways to keep comments private, while the board asks for more input on key issues like its superintendent search.
  8. Hillsborough County school officer Obed Gerenastands in front of Cahoon Elementary School in Tampa in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  9. Hernando County Sheriff's deputy Cory Zarcone talks to students during breakfast time in the cafeteria of Brooksville Elementary School in 2018. [Times (2018)]
    Five were arrested last week in a gun-theft incident on school grounds. Schools were locked down twice the week before. School board members want “zero tolerance.”
  10. Saint Leo University hosted a Bahamian comfort food dinner Tuesday night. Nearly 150 of the more than 2,200 students on the Pasco County campus are from the Bahamas. MALIEK WATKINS, THE LIONS’ PRIDE MEDIA GROUP  |  Saint Leo University
    Shaken by the devastation and toll of Hurricane Dorian, the Pasco County university’s students shared traditional dishes from home.