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Opinion
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Guest Column
Hillsborough, don’t close our high-achieving charter schools | Column
Principals of two Hillsborough charter schools make their case for keeping their schools open.
Parents and teachers in support of several Hillsborough-area charter schools which are in danger of being discontinued, attend a meeting of the Florida State Board of Education at the St. Petersburg College Seminole Campus on Wednesday in Seminole.
Parents and teachers in support of several Hillsborough-area charter schools which are in danger of being discontinued, attend a meeting of the Florida State Board of Education at the St. Petersburg College Seminole Campus on Wednesday in Seminole. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]
Published Jul. 16

As the principals of two high-achieving charter schools in Hillsborough County, we along with thousands of students and their families, are appalled at the Hillsborough County School Board’s disregard for parental choice when they voted to deny renewal of our charters.

While we are confident in our legal ability to continue to serve some of our county’s most vulnerable students and are grateful to Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran for his support of all public school students, we must address some of the misinformation that an organized group of anti-charter school activists continue to spread at Hillsborough School Board meetings.

Cuwana Lawson
Cuwana Lawson [ Provided ]

This group, which has nothing visible to gain or lose by having charter schools that outperform similar district schools in their neighborhoods, claims to be in support of all public school students. Here’s a fact that they’ve overlooked. Charter school students are public school students too. They cite incorrect information to further their cause. What is their motive? We would like to defend our schools based on true information that we can back up with facts and documentation.

Woodmont Charter School is the highest-graded school in Temple Terrace with a “B” rating. It serves 90 percent minority students with 97.6 percent being economically disadvantaged. It is the highest-performing local school in 2019 on the Federal Accountability Index for all students, white, Black, Hispanic, Asian, multi-racial, economically disadvantaged and English Learner students. Woodmont exceeded district performance in learning gains and learning gains among the lowest 25% in both math and English Language Arts. Woodmont’s Exceptional Student Education program was even highlighted in the Tampa Bay Times showing innovative speech therapy practices during the pandemic.

Amy Sams
Amy Sams [ Provided ]

Southshore Charter School earned a “B”-rating and serves 72.6 percent minority students with 38.1 percent being economically disadvantaged, which are both higher than surrounding district schools. Southshore exceeded district performance in learning gains and learning gains among the lowest 25% in both math and English Language Arts. Excluding the local magnet middle school, Southshore outperformed local schools on the Federal Accountability Index in 2019 for all students, Black, Hispanic, multi-racial, economically disadvantaged, English Language Learners students and students with disabilities.

It was disheartening to hear people who have never researched our schools, never entered a school or had any relationship with our school or our students disparage our phenomenal reputations. One even incorrectly claimed that we were out of compliance on safety drills. Another criticized us for employing the recognized safety precaution of having only one entry point.

The Hillsborough School Board is tasked to oversee all public school students — that includes charter school students. If the items its members listed as a cause for non-renewal were real, why wouldn’t they have noticed this ahead of time and done something about it much sooner? Ultimately, they are responsible for Exceptional Student Education students and are responsible for oversight of the programs.

Instead of finding issues to correct, they actually issued an award to Woodmont Charter School for Exceptional Student Education services when they visited, and they cited no issues at Southshore Charter that were left uncorrected. The board’s own staff stated that there were no valid reasons for denying our charters.

The denial of our charters is simply an attempt by the School Board to eliminate competition. The bottom line is that they are trying to take away the best educational choice available from high minority, economically disadvantaged students which is clearly their goal. Parents know what is best for their children, not politicians.

Amy Sams is principal of Southshore Charter Academy. Cuwana Lawson is principal of Woodmont Charter School.